10 Movies About Mental Illness and What They Taught Me

Movies have always made me feel less alone in the world. They make me feel like there is always someone out there who understands. Who has gone through the same things as me. Who fights the same wars I do. Who just gets it.

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I watched all the movies about mental illness I could get my hands on. They genuinely helped me. They gave me characters I could identify with and situations I related to. They taught me a lot about what it means to live with a mental illness and how to overcome some of the struggles that come with having a disorder. They also taught me how to help someone else who is struggling with a disorder and how I could be there for them. They taught me what to do and what not to do and ultimately gave me hope for the future.

So here are 10 movies about mental illness that have helped me in one way or another along the way. Not all of them have happy endings, but there is still something to learn from each of them. Most are about bipolar disorder because that’s what I can relate to, but there are some other disorders mentioned too. Warning — some movies may be triggering.


1. “Melancholia

Plot: Two sisters find their already-strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide with Earth.
Mental Illness: Depression
What It Taught Me: It showed me how debilitating depression can be and how much it affects not only the individual with the illness, but their family too.

2. “The Other Half

Plot: A bipolar woman and a grief-stricken man struggle to forge a simple life.
Mental Illness: Bipolar disorder.
What It Taught Me: It taught me that the people who truly love me will stay and will try to understand what I’m going through. It also taught me to stay on my medication.

3. “I Smile Back

Plot: Laney Brooks does bad things. Married with kids, she takes the drugs she wants, sleeps with the men she wants, disappears when she wants. Now, with the destruction of her family looming, and temptation everywhere, Laney makes one last desperate attempt at redemption.
Mental Illness: Bipolar disorder and substance abuse.
What It Taught Me: It taught me that recovery is hard but you need to keep trying. It also taught me to stay on my medication.

4. “Black Swan

Plot: A committed dancer wins the lead role in a production of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” only to find herself struggling to maintain her sanity.
Mental Illness: Schizophrenia
What It Taught Me: It taught me not to strive for perfection because it’s unhealthy and impossible to achieve.

5. “Girl, Interrupted

Plot: Based on writer Susanna Kaysen’s account of her 18-month stay at a mental hospital in the 1960s.
Mental Illness: Multiple but focuses on borderline personality disorder
What It Taught Me: It taught me that it’s OK to ask for help and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

6. “The Virgin Suicides

Plot: A group of male friends become obsessed with five mysterious sisters who are sheltered by their strict, religious parents in suburban Detroit in the mid-1970s.
Mental Illness: Depression.
What It Taught Me: It taught me that mental illness is not always obvious from an outsider’s perceptive.

7. “Silver Linings Playbook

Plot: After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own.
Mental Illness: Bipolar disorder.
What It Taught Me: It taught me recovery and love are possible.

8. “The Babadook

Plot: A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.
Mental Illness: Depression but could be mental illness in general.
What It Taught Me: It taught me that mental illness never really goes away but it is manageable and can be controlled.

9. “Touched With Fire

Plot: Two bipolar patients meet in a psychiatric hospital and begin a romance that brings out all of the beauty and horror of their condition.
Mental Illness: Bipolar disorder.
What It Taught Me: It taught me that some people are unhealthy for my mental health and that toxic relationships need to be cut immediately.

10. “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

Plot: An introvert freshman is taken under the wings of two seniors who welcome him to the real world.
Mental Illness: Depression.
What It Taught Me: It taught me that friends and family are important to recovery. It also taught me that in order to recover I need to be honest with myself and face the truth.

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Image via Magnolia Pictures. Photo © Christian Geisnaes.

10 Movies About Mental Illness and What They Taught Me

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