Top 7 Movies about Mental Illness

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By Marissa Katrin Maldonado
Hollywood has created many different movies depicting mental illness, to
varying degrees of accurately representing the actual mental health disorder
itself.  Some of its most popular movies feature a blend of a mentally ill
character with horror, such as Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” adding terror
to the mix.  Some movies, such as
“Frances,” (1982) about the life of actress Frances Farmer whose alcoholism led
to a mental breakdown, took us inside a psychiatric hospital
where the viewer watched in horror as the character receive a lobotomy.
With so many movies that revolve around mental illness to pick from,
here are seven of the best.  The authentic depictions of the characters,
either the main character or supporting characters, who live with a mental
illness, are cinematic standouts:

1.                One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).  This stand alone
classic that took home five Academy Awards features Mac (Jack Nicholson),
a non-conformist criminal who was admitted to a mental institution to
avoid prison.  The movie depicts the abusive reality of the
psychiatric hospitals in the 1960s, epitomized by the cruel Nurse Rached
(Louise Fletcher).  It was the power
struggle between Mac and Nurse Rathed that became the plot driver, as well
as a wake up call regarding what can take place when one is at the mercy
of a state mental institution. The supporting cast exhibited various
mental health disorders, such as paranoia, phobia, psychosis, and more.

A Beautiful Mind (2001).  This movie was based
on the life of mathematical genius John Forbes Nash, Jr., and won four Academy
Awards.  John Nash (Russell Crowe) was a brilliant mathematician who
eventually won the Nobel Prize in 1994, but suffered from psychotic
hallucinations and delusions that had him imagining he was being used by the
government to thwart a Soviet plot by uncovering a secret code found in the
patterns within newspaper print articles.  After hospitalization and
insulin shock therapy sessions, he struggled to live with the effects of the
psych meds while finally saying goodbye the characters he had imagined.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012).  This movie
follows Pat (Bradley Cooper) in the days following his eight-month stay in a
mental institution. Pat suffers from bipolar disorder and attempts to
reintegrate into society first by staying with his parents.  Pat exhibits
unpredictable behaviors, such as violent outbursts, which was one reason he was
hospitalized.  In the move Pat meets
Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who suffers from depression following her husband’s
death.  Together Pat and Tiffany focus on
an upcoming dance contest as a vehicle for healing and gaining a renewed sense
of self-worth.
Girl Interrupted (1999).  This movie is
based on Susanna Kaysen’s memoir as a resident of a mental institution in the
1960s.  While the movie is just average, the performances of the two main
characters are memorable for a realistic depiction of their disorders. Susanna
(Winona Ryder) suffers from borderline personality disorder and has attempted
suicide, and Lisa (Angelina Jolie) is a long-time resident who is considered a
sociopath.  The movie provides an inside glimpse into the workings of
mental institutions of the era.
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993).  This drama
depicts the lives of a family in the Midwest with several mental health issues
present.  The movie revolves around Gilbert (Johnny Depp), whose father
has committed suicide.  After her husband
hung himself, the mother develops depression and a severe eating disorder.
 The brother, Arnie (Leonardo DiCapprio) has a mental disability.  The movie explores how family members adapt
when one or more of them are suffering from a mental health disorder.  The mother eventually dies due to her morbid
The Fisher King (1991).  In this movie
radio DJ, Jack (Jeff Bridges), is suffering from depression and alcoholism
after his irresponsible on-air comments prompted a murder-suicide in New York
City, and attempts suicide.  However, a homeless man named Parry (Robin
Williams) thwarted the suicide. Parry, formerly Henry Sagan, was suffering from
PTSD and catatonia after
the death of his wife, and in his deluded state believes he is on a mission to
find the Holy Grail.  It turns out that his wife was one of the victims of
the mass murder instigated by Jack’s radio show comments.  Jack spends the rest of the movie trying to
redeem himself, helping to introduce Parry to considering a new romantic
interest, and helping him retrieve the “Grail.”  This movie takes a
compassionate approach toward mental illness and how to treat someone who is
Memento (2000).  This thriller uses an unusual cinematic
style throughout, where two different versions of a scene are depicted, one
backward, to give the audience a sense of how it feels to live with a mental
illness.  The main character, Leonard (Guy Pearce) suffers from
anterograde amnesia, a permanent condition that basically stops the memory from
making new memories after the time of the brain injury or traumatic event.
 Leonard, stuck in a perpetual present, tries to find his wife’s murderer
by using Polaroid photos, notes, and tattoos to patch a memory together.
Marissa Katrin Maldonado has been working in the
behavioral healthcare industry for over 13 years. She is the founder of
Treatment Specialist
, a
national online resource for adults and teens who are seeking treatment for
mental health conditions such as
rehab for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and trauma. Dedicated to guiding
individuals to the help they seek, Marissa believes that with the right support
and guidance, those struggling will have the opportunity to turn their lives
around and enjoy a healthy and happy life. She is a proud mother and wife and
enjoys long distance running, traveling, and music.

More about The Treatment Specialist: It is an online resource for for information on mental health and treatment options. The Treatment Specialist provides articles for adults, teens and families who are seeking rehabilitation from addiction conditions, dual diagnosis, mental health conditions, rehab for depression and eating disorders.

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