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Health and Wellness

12 Movies That Will Help You Learn More About Mental Illness

We need to destigmatize mental illness so that people don't have to be afraid to ask for help.


The struggle of mental illness varies from each person with the experience. Because it is so individualized, sometimes it is hard to capture the illness. However, these 12 movies do a great job in portraying mental illness.

1. "A Beautiful Mind" (2001). 

Russell Crowe as John Nash

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Based on a true story, John Nash (Russell Crowe) is a mathematician who made an astonishing discovery early in his career and was close to international fame. However, Nash finds himself in a harrowing and painful journey in living with schizophrenia. The portrayal of schizophrenia in the movie relays well in that mental illness can happen to anyone.

2. "Silver Linings Playbook" (2012). 

Bradley Cooper as Pat Solatano

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Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) wants to rebuild his life after losing his job and wife and spending time in the hospital for a manic episode of aggression. He lives with his parents who hope that he can remain stable after leaving the hospital. When Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), things get complicated as she offers to help him reconnect with his wife if she helps her out. Bradley Cooper's and Jennifer Lawrence's portrayal of characters with Bipolar Disorder show how mental illness can complicate relationships, but still, the support from it is important to recovery and stability.

3. "Black Swan" (2010). 

Natalie Portman as Nina

Fox Searchlight

Nina (Natalie Portman) is the ballet company's first choice when the artistic director decides to replace his prima ballerina for "Swan Lake." While she is perfect for the role of the White Swan, her rival, Lily (Mila Kunis), personifies the Black Swan better, creating competition. As Nina must shed her precociousness to embody the Black Swan, her dark side emerges. The film uses anxiety and eating disorders as well as the visual hallucinations of psychosis to portray Nina's descent into madness.

4. "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" (2012). 

From left: Zane Holtz as Chris, Logan Lerman as Charlie, Nina Dobrev as Candace

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Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a socially awkward teenager who starts high school feeling isolated and anxious. When he meets a group of charismatic seniors, including Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), they bring joy to his life. However, as they prepare for college, Charlie's inner turmoil heightens. As the film continues, we learn more about his illness – from staying at the psychiatric hospital to details of childhood trauma. This film does a good job showing the highs and lows of growing up with mental illness.

5. "Matchstick Men" (2003). 

Nicholas Cage as Roy

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While Roy (Nicholas Cage) is a confident con artist, he struggles in the other aspects of his life. His debilitating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), agoraphobia, and panic attacks make it difficult for him to leave his home. When he learns that he has a daughter, he must reconsider his career choices and isolated lifestyle. This movie is an honest depiction of the behaviors of someone living with OCD.

6. "It's Kind of a Funny Story" (2010). 

Keir Gilchrist as Craig


16-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist) checks himself into a psychiatric hospital because of his depression and suicidal ideation. Because the youth wing is under renovation, he stays in the adult unit. The hospital is shown not to be a scary place, but one that is safe where people struggling can be helped. The humor used in the movie helps normalize the fact that sometimes people need this level of care.

7. "The Skeleton Twins" (2014). 

Bill Hader as Milo and Kristen Wiig as Maggie

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In the opening scene of "The Skeleton Twins," twin siblings Milo (Bill Hader) attempts suicide. As he is hospitalized for the incident, he is reunited after 10 years of estrangement from his sister, Maggie (Kristen Wiig). As they express their depression candidly and humorously, they learn how to accept each other and themselves in the wake of their illness.

8. "Infinitely Polar Bear" (2015). 

Mark Ruffalo as Cam

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Cam is a father with Bipolar Disorder (Mark Ruffalo) who becomes the sole caregiver for his two daughters when his wife goes away to graduate school. Throughout the movie, Cam faces many challenges that make it difficult for him to take care of his daughters. Despite the severity of his condition, Cam learns that he is a good father despite his illness. This movie shows the meaningful portrayal of how families are impacted by mental illness.

9. "Welcome to Me" (2015). 

Kristen Wiig as Alison Klee

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When Alice (Kristen Wiig) wins the lottery, she decides to go off her medications for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). She impulsively buys her own talk show, in which she shares her opinion of the world. She shows many traits of BPD, including mood swings and unstable relationships. As she starts to push away the people in her life, she starts to take her mental health condition seriously. "Welcome to Me" also debunks the myth that people with BPD are selfish.

10. "Girl, Interrupted" (1999). 

Winona Ryder as Susanna Kaysen

YouTube Movies

"Girl, Interrupted" is the true story of Susanna Kaysen (Winona Ryder), a young woman who finds herself in a renowned mental institution for troubled women in the 60s. With a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), she must choose between the world of people who belong – like the dangerous Lisa (Angelina Jolie) – and the difficult world outside the institution.

11. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975). 

Jack Nicholson as Randle Patrick McMurphy

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Randle Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is transferred from a prison farm to a mental institution, which he assumes is a laxer environment. But the strict Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) oversees the ward and keeps her patients subdued with abuse, medication and electroconvulsive therapy. As their conflict escalates, it soon affects all the ward's patients. This movie provides a great insight into the nature of mental institutions in the 20th century.

12. "Inside Out" (2015). 

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This family animated movie personifies the different emotions inside a young girl's mind who is coping with her family's move to San Francisco. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear all work together to help Riley understand the complexity of the emotions she deals with while growing up. This is a great movie that talks about emotional development.

Even though Hollywood is known for exaggerating stories for a profit (we're looking at you, "13 Reasons Why"), these 12 movies help spread the awareness of mental health. It's important that we continue to learn more about mental illness so that we can destigmatize it - and these movies in their own way highlight an important fact about recovery that others who are unaffected by mental illness don't understand.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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