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10 Movies About Mental Illness and What They Taught Me

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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
(BPD).
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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Magnolia Pictures. Photo © Christian Geisnaes.


10 Movies About Mental Illness and What They Taught Me
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To Those Who Hide Their Mental Illness

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You; yes, you reading this. The person behind the screen everyone looks up to; the hardworking one. The productive one. The one who’s always there for others to give a helping hand. The one who delivers. The one who performs. The one who’s known for their natural warmth in making people feel comfortable. Known for their wittiness, known for their love.

You; yes, you behind the screen, reading this.

Unknown for the restless nights you’ve had for years. Unknown for the tears you’ve shed behind closed doors. Unknown for the thoughts of suicide that can sometimes leave you hanging by a thread.

You; yes, you.

Unknown for the invisible weight you carry in your heart and mind.

Unknown for the invisible foe that speaks only to you. Unknown for the truth behind your scars. Unknown for the truth behind those eyes; “I’m just tired; life, am I right?” “No, don’t worry, it’s just a common headache, and backache, and neck ache… Yes, I’m all right.”

Unknown for the truth behind the silence; “Yes, I’m down with the flu again, darn virus.” “I’ll be away… so I want you to keep this safe for me, all right?”

You; yes, you who’s reading this. Me; yes, me writing who’s this. We; yes, we who relate to this.

We are the known unknowns.

To all the known unknowns, you are not alone. Don’t downplay your symptoms, don’t deny your weeds among the roses. Not all of us stay home or recuperate at a hospital. We walk, we talk, we breathe amongst you, but inside we feel dead. We get As in our exams. We get As in our performance appraisals, but we fail to overcome our foe.

We are the known unknowns. The ones who are always drowning, but never dying. Who are too weak to swim to shore, but who are also too strong to let go.

Like a swan that sails the lake with exterior calm. If only you could dip your head into the water to see its frantic paddling to keep itself afloat.

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

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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To My Friends Who Support Me Through My Mental Illness

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Thank you.

For loving me when I am at my best, but especially when I am at my worst. For looking past the inner demons that, as of late, have taken over my former self and seeing that your friend, Kara, is still inside the shell of a human she has become.

Thank you.

For always allowing me to be as honest with you about what is really going on in my life as opposed to the “show” I put on for others. I appreciate and value your honesty, opinions and concerns, even though I may not act or show you I do.

Thank you.

For not judging me for the things I may do a little different than others.

Thank you.

For the countless reassurances you do not hate me, are not mad at me, don’t find me annoying etc., and do indeed love me. It helps to have your voice saying this in my head, as your voice means more to me than the one in my head which tells me the opposite.

Thank you.

For getting to know me. The actual me, not the person I try to make others believe I am. You know, the girl who has her shit together when the people who know the real me know I am the complete opposite of having my shit together.

Thank you.

For being able to laugh with me over the odd things I do and clarifying for me what is/isn’t real, no matter how silly it sounds. I realize Jesus probably isn’t on the wall, but having you clarify that he indeed is not makes me feel better.

Thank you.

For giving me space when I need it and pulling me closer when you see I am struggling and in need of more support.

To the ones who left — I don’t blame you. I am a hard person to get to know and an even harder person to love. I get it and I don’t blame you. Thank you for your friendship, however brief our paths may have crossed. Each and every one of you has taught me a valuable lesson.

Most importantly, the ones who’ve stayed. Words will never be enough to express my love and gratitude for our friendship. So each time I hug you, I hope you can feel it. Each time I tell you I love you, I hope you know I truly mean it.

Thank you. I love you to the moon and back…

K.

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Unsplash photo via Luke Ellis Craven

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My Tears Are Not a Sign of Weakness

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I hate crying in front of people. Trust me — as uncomfortable as it probably makes you to see it, it’s a thousand times worse to be the one shedding those tears. I can live with the tears; it’s the assumptions I find you make about me when I cry that I can’t stand. In society, tears are sometimes viewed as a weakness. Being vulnerable and showing your humanity is not something valued in our schools and in our workplaces. Crying is inherently seen as a negative behavior — sometimes even manipulative. I’m here to challenge that.

When I cry, it is not because I’m feeling insecure about myself. It’s also not because I’m “not getting my way.” Most of the time, my tears are from frustration at being misunderstood. They are from the constant microaggressions I experience from our culture that does not understand mental illnesses or view them as actual disorders. My tears come from a history of having my character, abilities and capabilities questioned out of assumptions I am lazy, emotionally unstable or too incompetent to do my job. My tears originate from the disconnect between being proud of myself for coming to work today at all after experiencing a panic attack, and your criticism of me for arriving at 8:02 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. My tears are from knowing, when I call into work because of a migraine, my work ethic will be questioned. My tears come from the realization that performing at 100 percent on 95 percent of the days isn’t good enough when the other 5 percent of the time you assume I am faking being ill.

My tears come from knowing I am doing the best I can at this moment in time with the disabilities I have, and because you don’t take the time to understand or listen, I am disciplined for it. So no, my tears aren’t a sign of fragility. My tears are a sign of perseverance.

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Thinkstock photo via happyframe

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To My Internet Friend With Depression, From Someone Who Believes in You

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To my friend,

I don’t know you in real life, and you don’t know me either, but that doesn’t really mean much in the world of the internet. We are friends through a virtual world, one where we post the best parts and sometimes the worst parts of our lives. I know you are a beautiful woman, with a gorgeous family and I can tell by the posts you share that they mean the world to you.

I am so thankful you have been able to turn to me, to let me see the tiredness in your smile too.

You asked me today about what helps soothe me in my really bad moments. You assured me you know it is not an easy answer, but I can tell you are desperate for any kind of hope. You told me about the struggle you have to get through each day at the moment, and that you are exhausted, lonely and feel isolated. You expressed guilt that you rely so much on your partner for support, but you feel sure you have have no one else to turn to. You asked if I have friends or if I have found that people turned away from me when I started to crumble.

I’m no expert, all I can share with you is my “lived in experience.”

In the bad moments, I soothe myself with sleep. I go to bed and I pray when I wake up, the worst of the storm will have passed. I pray for help and guidance and I hope I will make it through. I take long, hot showers and I walk with my dog. I draw. I talk to my husband, I may email my psychiatrist or message a friend. Sometimes I just sit and cry — often, I just sit and cry. The bad moments pass, I know it doesn’t feel like they ever will, but they do. The intrusive thoughts that tell you over and over again that you can never get through this, they are lies, symptoms of depression itself. Please don’t listen to them, you will get through this, I know it doesn’t seem possible right now, but you will.

That guilt you feel when you rely on your husband, you should never feel that. I know you will, because I still do too, but I am here to tell you that one day you will be able to repay him. I was once told trying to hide my feelings from my dear husband to worry him was pointless. I was told if I opened my eyes and really looked, I would see there was a man who was beside himself with worry already! I’m sure your husband is the same. He is your best friend, let him be there for you. Let him love you and grip your hand firmly on the bad days when you fear you can’t hold on alone.

As for friends, I have some really close ones now, but for a long time, I felt as though I had no one. I was very isolated, and it felt impossible to ever be accepted. The friends I had seemed to pull away when I needed them to be there for me. They seemed to feel that my seemingly sudden breakdown was for attention, not because I had finally fallen apart so much that I couldn’t keep up the act anymore. I found friends through my Christian worship. I looked for the ones who were alone with few to talk to, and I made friends with them. Oh how I need them, and I love to know they need me, too. We nurture and cherish each other.

Loneliness is debilitating. I found it consuming me. I cried all the time if I saw someone out with a group I knew. It felt as though everyone had turned away from me. I just needed to find the right people, they were there, they were waiting. It will be the same for you, in the meantime, until you find your “real life” friends, I will be here for you. And even once you do, I’ll still be here!

Thank you for letting me in. Thank you for being that brave. Please continue to hold on, I would miss you if you weren’t here anymore. Your family will miss you. You will get through this depression, one day it will get better. Let your husband hold your hand and pull you through. Rely on those professionals who have years of knowledge to help support you, too. One day, you’ll be having this conversation with someone else, trying to nurture their tired soul and you’ll see hope for yourself.

Thank you again.

With love,
Someone who believes in you

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

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The Phrase That Keeps Me Going When Depression Gets Rough

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When I grow up. The beauty of this phrase is almost unfathomable. When I grow up. There is so much hope in this simple phrase. It speaks of triumph over difficulties, of growth after destruction, of hope after devastation. It holds an aura of peace and happiness. It shows that growing and changing holds the key to achieving all of one’s dreams. It shows that only by accepting and embracing the constant that is change, will we be able to find a future for ourselves.

Children always dream of what they will be when they “grow up.” Oh, to have this childlike desire for the future. But maybe, that’s just what our world needs. To see our dreams through the lens of a child, to take out the complexity of reaching that dream job or becoming all that we have hoped to become. Simply believe these things will happen. Have the confidence of 6-year-old who, when you ask what they want to be when they grow up, says, “a firefighter,” or ”a surgeon,” or “a dog trainer.” This does not mean we get to skip all of the hard work that goes toward success, but rather, we hold the belief that it is possible to achieve the things we have always wanted as long as we believe in our ability to succeed, are determined enough to work through the difficulties, and never give up.

When I grow up. This phrase is what propels me to keep going when my depression gets rough. I remind myself that I am still growing and that there is still time to achieve everything that my heart desires. I look to the future filled with hope and determination. It helps to remind myself that there is so much more to come and that I must be here for it. Despite the rough waters, I seem to be sinking in right now, I know one day, the sea will become calm and life will be peaceful once again. I am motivated to go to counseling, take my medication, and have self-care days by the image of a smooth, serene body of water when it all gets to be too much. Because when I grow up, oh goodness, there will be so much to celebrate.

A.R Lucas said, ”If there’s even a slight chance at getting something that will make you happy, risk it. Life is too short, and happiness too rare.” I believe we have but one wild and beautiful life, my friends. One chance to do exactly what sets our soul on fire. Do not let limitations or obstacles such as mental illness stand in the way of what your heart wants. Have enough faith in your abilities and your fortitude to persevere through the difficulties. Do not let others’ words tear you down and hold you back. Use their negative, bitter words to build foundations of strength. Find the burning passion that your being so desperately and greatly desires and pursue it with all of your heart. Go on, get it! I believe in you. I believe you are more than capable of achieving your dreams and goals. I believe you are more than capable and worthy of getting what gives you with extreme bliss and great joy. The world is at your fingertips child, grasp your beautiful and gorgeous dreams!

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