Using popular medium is a great way of exploring and understanding mental illness and several films have depicted particular illnesses really well. In this blog post we discuss ten films that the founder of Bom believes are excellent at helping understand what it feels like to experience an illness of the mind. In this blog post we discuss the best 10 films that explore mental illness and what it can feel like to have one of the conditions depicted in the films discussed.

The silver lining playbook (Bipolar disorder)

Cooper plays Patrick “Pat” Solitano, Jr., a man with bipolar disorder who is released from a psychiatric hospital and moves back in with his parents, played by Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver. Determined to win back his estranged wife, Pat meets recently widowed Tiffany Maxwell, portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence, who offers to help him get his wife back if he enters a dance competition with her. The two become closer as they train and Pat, his father, and Tiffany examine their relationships with each other as they cope with their problems.

As good as it gets (OCD)

Melvin Udall is a misanthrope who works at home as a best-selling novelist in New York City. He suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder which, paired with his misanthropy, alienates nearly everyone with whom he interacts.

Although Jack Nicholson is a character most would assume to be an unwelcome character as you get to learn about him and his life you realise he is a good guy and it is his illness that challenges his ability to function properly every day.

Rain Man (Severe Autism)

Rain Man is a 1988 American drama film directed by Barry Levinson and written by Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass. It tells the story of an abrasive and selfish young wheeler-dealer, Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise), who discovers that his estranged father has died and bequeathed all of his multimillion-dollar estate to his other son, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), an autistic savant.

This film provides a great insight into the autistic mind as Dustin Hoffman plays an excellent portrayal of someone with the disorder to a severe level.

It’s a wonderful life (Severe depression & suicide)

The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his dreams in order to help others and whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers). Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and how different life in his community of Bedford Falls would be had he never been born.

This movie is great in helping people understand why people might consider taking their own life and also help depressed people realise that their life is important and has affected so many people positively without realising it.

Me, myself and Irene (Dissociative identity disorder)

After years of continuous abuse, Charlie develops a rude and violent split personality named Hank, caused by “advanced delusionary schizophrenia with involuntary narcissistic rage“. As Hank, he goes around retaliating against anyone who has accosted him — and even harms those who really haven’t. A psychiatrist prescribes a medicine to keep Hank suppressed.

I have included this film in the list as I think it is sometimes important to laugh at ourselves and use humour as a way of coping with our challenges.

The notebook (Alzheimer’s disease)

At a modern-day nursing home, an elderly man named Duke (James Garner) begins to read a romantic story from his notebook to a fellow patient (Gena Rowlands) who has alzheimer’s disease.

The film is quite powerful in showing how painful it can be when someone you have shared your whole life with forgets the incredible experiences you have had throughout your life.

The Eternal sunshine of a spotless mind (letting go of the past)



Babadook (Severe Depression)

Amelia, a troubled widow, has raised her six-year-old son Samuel alone, after her husband Oskar died in an accident driving Amelia to the hospital to give birth. Sam begins displaying erratic behavior: he rarely sleeps through the night and is preoccupied with an imaginary monster, which he has built weapons to fight. Amelia is forced to take her son out of school due to his behavioral problems.

This film accurately depicts what it can be like to suffer with depression…I can’t say too much as it will spoil it if you watch it.

One flew over the cuckoo’s nest (various in a psychiatric hospital)

In 1963 Oregon, Randle Patrick “Mac” McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a recidivist anti-authoritarian criminal serving a short sentence on a prison farm for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl, is transferred to a mental institution for evaluation. Although he does not show any overt signs of mental illness, he hopes to avoid hard labor and serve the rest of his sentence in a more relaxed hospital environment.

Although maybe not completely an accurate depiction of a mental hospital any more in the Western world it does give some insight into several types of mental health behaviour and how people who suffered with mental illness could have been treated when there was less education about problems of the mind. By the end of the film you have a place in your heart for the main star as he tries to make the inpatients lives feel a little bit more normal than being stuck in the same surroundings day after day.

Ordinary People (Bereavement & depression)

“Ordinary People” was a groundbreaking film that delved deeper into the topic than any other movie that preceded it. It shows us a family dealing with one son’s death and the surviving son’s depression.

Movies are a great medium for helping reach more people and can be helpful in the average person understanding what it might be like to suffer a mental illness. Unfortunately, some films still use mental illness as a ‘scary’ characteristic but as mental health increases in awareness we can only hope that more positive films about living with mental illnesses come to the forefront.

Do you know of any other films that also discuss mental health in a positive way? Please comment below.

Leave a Reply

  1. BG

    I’ve seen a few of these movies (One Flew over the Cookoo’s Nest is my favorite of those listed) and they are all very good in speaking about mental illnesses and mental issues. Anther recommendation is Barefoot (featuring Evan Rachel Wood, about a girl who lived in isolation and is in a mental hospital when the movie begins). I think it’s a great movie about someone who is viewed by most individuals in a negative way but then finds support and love.