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Trigger Warning: This article mentions sexual assault

The rise in mental health awareness nowadays is amazing, but there are still negative stigmas. These negative stigmas are harmful to those who experience mental illness, so when film and television portray it realistically there is a great positive impact. Even though the experience of mental illness varies widely from person to person, the authentic portrayal in film is appreciated. Here we have listed some films and television shows that show characters with mental illness in a great way. 

Note: There are spoilers in this article! 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

In the amazing film, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the main character, Charlie, suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the sexual assault he experienced as a child. This film goes through Charlie’s headspace by showing the realization of his abuse, the triggers, and the emotional effects of it, all the while experiencing friendship and romance in his first year of high school. Particularly, the scene of Charlie’s mental breakdown artistically yet realistically shows Charlie’s mind through the build-up of emotions he has. Without downplaying or romanticizing the disorder, this film does an excellent job of showing what it is like to live with trauma like that. 


The highly-acclaimed television series Shameless portrays a multitude of mental illnesses in ways that do not glamorize, but their portrayal of Bipolar Disorder through teenage character Ian Gallagher is particularly impressive. Shameless shows the before, during, and after of the diagnosis, as well as the symptoms and pains the disorder can cause of the person suffering and those close to them. Through moments in the show like the first depressive period of Ian, the show goes through the highs and lows of the disorder in ways so realistic that they make you forget you are watching a TV show. 

Beautiful Boy

The heartbreaking film, Beautiful Boy, is an award-winning portrayal of addiction. Based on the real story of teenage Nicholas Sheff, the film shows the reality of meth addiction from the perspective of the addict and their loved ones. This film will pull at your heartstrings while also illustrating the close-up aspects of addiction often not widely shown in media, like the moment when Nick relapses for the first time after steadily recovering. This film is raw, vulnerable, and gives a real glimpse into the disorder and hurt of addiction. 

The End of the F***ing World

The popular TV show The End of the F***ing World contains a more subtle appearance of mental illness, but accurate. The character Alyssa experiences negative events that lead to being triggered in underlying depression that she does not understand. Specifically, the way she recovers from trauma is introspective, intense,  and shows what depression can feel like before you confront it. This display of depression is one that likely many can relate to. 


The main character Arthur in the film Joker is a person who experiences a variety of mental illnesses, but a specific one is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). The film has received mixed reviews on its forefront portrayal of mental illness, but the less obvious hints are impactful, respectful, and good to look out for. The film illustrates Arthur exuding symptoms of DID like delusions, disorganized thinking, and pseudobulbar affect, all while showing an interesting and introspective plot. This film is one to pay attention to, especially in between the lines. 


Gabriella is a second-year student at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo majoring in Graphic Communication. She is currently involved in Her Campus as the Cal Poly SLO chapter Social Media Director, Instagram Manager, and as an editorial writer. She is passionate about writing, making art, volunteering, and pursuing a career where her creativity can be at the forefront. In her free time, you can find her attempting to surf, researching astrology, and doodling anything at any given opportunity.
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