20 Movies About Mental Illness That Treat the Issues With Respect

Updated on April 19, 2020
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Craig is a bonafide cinephile, one who prefers watching both old and new films to get his mind thinking.

Movies about mental illness are subject to criticism, but the following films are definitely worth commending.
Movies about mental illness are subject to criticism, but the following films are definitely worth commending. | Source

Mental health is not the most common topic when it comes to movies. It is a complicated subject that requires delicate handling so that the onscreen performance doesn't become a mockery of thousands of patients who actually suffer from the respective illness. Over the years, there have been quite a few brilliantly-made movies about mental illness that explained the issue at large and also delivered a story that kept the audience thinking of the characters. Here is a list of some of the movies about mental illness that treat the issues respectfully.

The Best Movies About Mental Illness

1. Forrest Gump

2. Memento

3. What's Eating Gilbert Grape

4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

5. Rain Man

6. It's a Wonderful Life

7. Girl, Interrupted

8. Still Alice

9. Silver Linings Playbook

10. Little Miss Sunshine

11. A Streetcar Named Desire

12. Donnie Darko

13. The Aviator

14. As Good As It Gets

15. The Fisher King

16. The Hours

17. We Need to Talk About Kevin

18. Benny and Joon

19. The Virgin Suicides

20. X + Y

1. Forrest Gump

The movie is about Forrest Gump, who suffers from intellectual disabilities. But the real issue that this movie deals with is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Forrest's platoon leader in the Vietnam War, Lieutenant Dan Taylor, struggles to adjust to normal life after coming back from the war. PTSD almost cripples the lieutenant. The movie ends on a heartwarming note where Forrest goes back to see his son after knowing that his wife had died while he was fighting in the Vietnam War.


2. Memento

This movie received widespread accolades from medical professionals because of its accurate portrayal of anterograde amnesia. It is an illness where a person can't create new memories. Christopher Nolan, the director, uses a non-linear structure to describe the effects of this condition on Guy Pearce, the protagonist in the movie. He tries to search for his wife's murderer using photos, tattoos, and by taking notes of what he sees. Will Guy Pearce find out the murderer? Or will short-term memory loss take him nowhere?

3. What's Eating Gilbert Grape

Arnie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, has a developmental condition, including autism. Apart from portraying a developmental condition, this movie also subtly features depression of Bonnie, Arnie, and Gilbert's mother, who is fed up with her life after her husband had committed suicide. Gilbert falls in love with a girl, but as the eldest sibling, he needs to take care of his younger brother, Gilbert, and his obese mother, Bonnie. How will Gilbert manage everything alone?

4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

It is only the second movie to win all the five major Oscars. That itself is proof of why this is one of the best movies about mental illness. It portrays not one but multiple mental illnesses, such as megalomaniacal tendencies, pathological cruelty, and antisocial disorders. The film unabashedly questions the real definition of mental illness. With criminals being admitted to a mental institution for various mental health conditions, do you call them antisocials or patients who require specialized treatment? The stellar performances of Jack Nicholson and the other actors make this movie hauntingly good.

5. Rain Man

Raymond, an autistic savant, inherits all of his father's estate. His selfish younger brother discovers this later and tries his best to take over a significant part of the property that his father had left for Raymond. In addition to portraying the challenges of an autistic savant, this film tries to raise awareness of this mental health problem.

6. It's a Wonderful Life

A festive mainstay and a bona fide classic, It's a Wonderful Life depicts the story of a clinically depressed protagonist. Apart from showing the different aspects of this condition, it also portrays a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that treats this disorder successfully. In this movie, James Stewart is on the verge of committing suicide on Christmas Eve. But a guardian angel arrives and shows him how different life would be for others if he didn't exist.

7. Girl, Interrupted

This movie tackles borderline personality disorder brilliantly. Like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, this movie also features events transpiring in a mental institution. Although it profoundly explores borderline personality disorder, the film doesn't fail to depict other mental illnesses of patients staying in the same institution for years. It was Angelina Jolie's career-making movie with Winona Ryder playing the part of Susanna Kaysen, the patient with a personality disorder.

8. Still Alice

Still Alice is the shattering story of a linguistic professor when she finds out that she has Alzheimer's disease. It portrays the heartbreaking challenges of Alice while suffering from Alzheimer's. Although Alzheimer's is not a mental illness, the movie shows the various mental health symptoms that a person may develop while suffering from this disease. Julianne Moore's nuanced performance will make you reach for the tissues as the story unfolds her illness slowly but steadily.

9. Silver Linings Playbook

This unique romantic comedy-drama deals with obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder. Pat, played by Bradley Cooper, was sent to a mental institution for eight months for attacking his wife's lover. He moves in with his parents after his stint at the mental institution. Pat meets Tiffany, a recently widowed woman, to help mend ways with his wife. Tiffany, on the other hand, has an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Will Pat get back to his wife or fall in love with Tiffany?

10. Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine unflinchingly portrays depression through dark comedy. This movie features two people suffering from depression, while one of them had already tried to commit suicide. The central theme of this movie is a road trip where the two patients from the same family develop a bond while trying to help the youngest member to reach the final of a beauty pageant contest. The film displays how people with depression react in different situations. The uplifting finale will make you want to get up and cheer for the entire family.

11. A Streetcar Named Desire

Like Girl, Interrupted, A Streetcar Named Desire also deals with a borderline personality disorder. In addition to that, it also shows how obsessive-compulsive disorder slowly crawls into the minds of people through their daily activities. In this movie, a disturbed Vivien Leigh moves in with his violent brother-in-law, Marlon Brando, and Vivien's sister, Kim Hunter. Vivien is desperately trying to forget her aristocratic background as she tries to settle down with her sister and brother-in-law. But life doesn't get easier for her, especially with her violent brother-in-law around. A Streetcar Named Desire marked the grand entry of Marlon Brando, one of Hollywood's legendary icons.

12. Donnie Darko

Many people think that schizophrenic patients are usually very violent. But Donnie Darko interprets it differently and makes it an eye-opener for everyone. It shows how schizophrenia can slowly grow in a person without making him/her violent. Donnie Darko is an awkward teenager who sees Frank, a person in a bunny costume. Frank tells Donnie that the world will end in just 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds. Since only Donnie can see Frank, he tries to befriend him, but Frank keeps reappearing and reminds Donnie about the time left for the world to end.

13. The Aviator

Deemed as one of DiCaprio's best performances, The Aviator tackles obsessive-compulsive disorder and germophobia brilliantly. Howard Hughes is an aircraft designer. He tries to design one of the most spectacular aircraft ever, but he wants to reach the highest level of perfection. Along the way, he faces various personal issues that eventually lead him to become a successful film-maker. But his aim to direct a perfect movie makes him obsessed with his craft. Together with germophobia, Howard Hughes only sees his plan of directing a masterpiece fail as he slowly gets engrossed in washing his hands to get rid of germs.

14. As Good As It Gets

As Good As It Gets tries to depict the potential symptoms of a person suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Jack Nicholson plays the part of Melvin, suffering from OCD, and also has a fear of contamination. Melvin's gay neighbor gets assaulted brutally one night. This forces Melvin to take care of his neighbor's dog. Melvin then falls in love with a waitress, and the couple, along with Melvin's neighbor, shares an unlikely friendship. This film not only portrays OCD tactfully but also celebrates friendship in a way that you may not have seen before.

15. The Fisher King

Jack, a radio jockey, often receives calls from a mentally unstable person. One day, Jack uses this person to shoot people randomly. But he soon realizes the horrible mistake he had committed. He becomes depressed about what he had made another person do because of his mental instability. Jack meets the son of a victim in one of the shootings and decides to help him. In a heart-wrenching story, The Fisher King carefully depicts the effects of depression and how it can change a person from bad to worse. But the silver lining is Jack's behavioral change and how he helps the victim's son amidst all the chaos.

16. The Hours

The Hours is a gripping story of how mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and depression, can lead to suicide. It portrays the lives of three women from three different generations, who, in some way or another, are affected by Mrs. Dalloway, one of the most famous novels from the author, Virginia Woolf. This movie about mental illness shows the suicide of Virginia Woolf who became obsessed with her novel. The two other women, Clarissa Vaughan and Laura Brown, on the other hand, find solace in Mrs. Dalloway as it helps them escape from their monotonous life.

17. We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a brilliant portrayal of antisocial personality disorder and how the potentially tragic consequences affect the family members. Eva Khatchadourian, a travel writer, gives birth to Kevin. But she finds it challenging to develop a bond with her son. Kevin grows to become a fussy and demanding toddler and eventually develops into a sociopathic teen. He commits a horrific crime due to his antisocial personality disorder. Eva now has to deal with the aftermath of Kevin's actions.

18. Benny and Joon

Benny and Joon tackles schizophrenia dazzlingly with stellar performances from Mary Stuart Masterson and Johnny Depp. Joon, suffering from schizophrenia, meets an eccentric cinephile, Buster, who moves into her apartment. She also shares this apartment with her brother Benny. But does Benny really live in that apartment? Or is he a part of Joon's schizophrenic episodes? What effect does this mental illness have on Joon and Buster's relationship? This is an excellently-crafted movie subtly depicting schizophrenia.

19. The Virgin Suicides

There is hardly any movie that explores teenage depression, but The Virgin Suicides does it ever so brilliantly. One of the five teenage sisters in this story commits suicide. The religious parents of these children put the girls into confinement. This leads them to go into depression. On the one hand, they feel attracted to a group of boys, and on the other hand, they can't come out of their confinement. How will the teenage sisters survive? Sofia Coppola, the director of this movie, gets into the details of teenage depression and how it can affect their lives when parents pressure them to stay indoors.

20. X + Y

Nathan, a teenage math prodigy, suffers from autism. He fails to make friends because everyone mocks him about his mental illness. Nathan manages to make it to the International Mathematical Olympiad. On his trip to Taipei, Nathan meets a young girl. She is the first person in his life who doesn't see Nathan as the others do. This makes Nathan harbor a feeling towards the girl. Will it lead to a long-lasting relationship or will Nathan come back home empty-handed? If you are on a roll to watch movies on mental illness, don't miss X + Y.

Which movie about mental illness will you watch next?

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