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Mental Health

Ranking Nine of the Best Free Movies About Mental Illnesses and Health

Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic and the overall state of the world at the moment, mental health issues are becoming a large concern. The pandemic has notably brought about higher rates of stress, anxiety and depression, as well as exacerbated the conditions of those already struggling with mental illnesses. Personally, I can attest to and have discerned these negative changes in the conditions of both myself and those around me. 

Though Mental Health Awareness Month was observed in May, that does not mean that education on mental health and illnesses has to end. With some of the time I would’ve spent binge-watching the new season of Shameless or rewatching classics that were recently made available like Friends, I decided to watch, review and rank nine movies centered around mental health. While some of these films, like The Skeleton Twins and A Beautiful Mind, were painfully relatable and brought me to tears, others, like What About Bob?, left much to be desired and sacrificed the integrity of an honest discussion on mental illness for cinematic or comedic effect.

Below, I ranked each of these nine films based on how greatly I enjoyed them, including a small discussion of each film's plot and notable contributions to the larger discussion of mental health. On a scale of 1 to 10, I also rated each film based on how well I believe they portrayed mental health issues (though everyone is subject to their own opinions and has differing experiences). I have included the providers of these movies in hopes that many or most of them are accessible to the masses. 

1) The Skeleton Twins (2014) - Depression - Hulu, Amazon Prime Video

The Skeleton Twins is a truly beautiful story depicted by a pair of suicidal twins, Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig), who after 10 years of estrangement, reunite to ultimately save each others’ lives. Coming from a broken home, Milo and Maggie are flawed, traumatized, hilarious and stunningly real. The duality of their experiences with depression, while different, prove that there is always someone out there who understands what you are going through and can help you to heal. Tear-jerking scenes of personal and interpersonal turmoil are juxtaposed with simple scenes that show the pure enjoyment life can bring, accurately depicting the highs and lows of living with a mental illness. In one of the most realistic portrayals of mental illness and true humanity I have seen, The Skeleton Twins remains one of my all time favorite films.

Portrayal of Mental Health: 10/10

2) Inside Out (2015) - General Mental Health - Disney+

Inside Out tackles the topics of growing up and mental health in one of the more serious animated Disney films I have seen. The movie centers 11-year-old Riley and her family’s move from the Midwest to San Francisco. Her story is told from the perspective of her five main emotions - Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black). As Riley struggles with adapting to her new lifestyle, Joy scrambles in an attempt to maximize Riley’s happiness and ensure everything stays the same. However, the stress of the move brings Sadness to the forefront, ultimately teaching Joy that every emotion is meant to be felt and actually serves a purpose. Overall, Inside Out normalizes mental health struggles for younger children and shows that it is okay to experience difficulty adapting to life’s changes. 

Portrayal of Mental Health: 10/10

3) A Beautiful Mind (2001) - Schizophrenia - STARZ

A Beautiful Mind tells the true story of mathematical genius John Forbes Nash Jr. (Russell Crowe), simultaneously tracking both his revolutionary contributions to his field and his devastating battle with schizophrenia. Throughout the film, John’s hallucinations and paranoia are made clear to the audience as they devolve from an imaginary roommate into an elaborate delusion in which he is a government spy fleeing from the Russians. Losing his grip on reality, John finds himself forced into a psychiatric institution at the height of his career and private life. The film beautifully bonds John’s perspective to the viewer’s, only revealing the true reality of the situation when John finally breaks down, helping the viewer to understand and experience the extent of his mental illness. Despite John’s initial spiral into delusion and a few setbacks in his journey to management, he is able to regain control of his life and disallow his illness from taking over entirely. John’s work is not discredited by his illness, nor are his relationships, and at the film’s end, he receives the Nobel Prize in Economics with his family and friends by his side. Devastating, tantalizing and heartwarming all at once, A Beautiful Mind is ultimately a story of tolerance, acceptance and triumph in the face of great adversity. 

Portrayal of Mental Health: 10/10

4) Silver Linings Playbook (2012) - Bipolar Disorder - Netflix

Silver Linings Playbook stunningly portrays heartbreak, loss and growth through protagonist Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) on his journey to heal. After a brief stay at a mental institution, Pat is forced to move back in with his parents and confront the realities of his bipolar disorder in an uncontrolled environment. As Pat faces his broken marriage, his daily emotions are depicted through heartbreakingly real fits of mania and paranoid thinking. However, when Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a similarly struggling widow who offers to help Pat reconnect with his wife in exchange for dancing with her at a competition, Pat begins to grow. By the end of the film, Pat is able to appreciate “the silver linings” in all of life’s situations and healthily build mutually beneficial relationships with those he truly cares about, including Tiffany. Silver Linings Playbook is not only strikingly authentic, as it never sacrifices its integrity for dramatic affect, but also provides hope for those suffering through similar situations with an overall message that genuine happiness and personal progress are attainable. 

Portrayal of Mental Health: 10/10

5) Infinitely Polar Bear (2014) - Bipolar Disorder - STARZ

Based on a true story, Infinitely Polar Bear delves into the reality of family life with mental illness through Cameron Stuart (Mark Ruffalo), a diagnosed bipolar father of two. Cameron’s fits of mania, while uncontrollable, are nevertheless hard on his family and cause him to live under medical supervision a lot of the time, resulting in both mental and financial strain. After Cameron’s wife is accepted into Columbia business school, Cameron is left with the sole duty of caring for his children, something that he has never done alone. Throughout the film, Cameron learns to take responsibility for his children and his condition. Similarly, though his young girls struggled with their father’s volatile moods and health at first, they are slowly able to see the value of his fatherhood and effort. Infinitely Polar Bear shows that family life with mental illness is not only possible, but can truly be beautiful. 

Portrayal of Mental Health: 10/10

6) It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010) - Depression - STARZ

Centered around the story of suicidal 16-year-old Craig Gilner (Keir Gilchrist), It’s Kind of a Funny Story delves into the pressures and hard realities associated with adolescence and growing up. After checking himself into a mental health clinic, Craig learns to care for those with hardships worse than his and appreciate the life that he has been granted. One of the adult patients named Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), also suicidal, helps Craig to realize that those often deemed “crazy” are just struggling and in need of help, while fellow teen Noelle (Emma Roberts) provides companionship in an unlikely friendship that is just what Craig needs. Overall, It’s Kind of a Funny Story helps to normalize those seeking help in a psychiatric unit, while also providing a realistic portrayal of mental illness (in that it is different for everyone affected) and leaving the viewer with a more positive outlook on life itself. 

Portrayal of Mental Health: 8/10

7) As Good As It Gets (1997) - Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder - Amazon Prime Video

As Good As It Gets depicts bitter and obsessive-compulsive writer Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) on his journey to build a life outside of his disorder and form new connections with those around him and himself. After a home invasion that lands Melvin’s gay neighbor Simon (Greg Kinnear), someone he’s been characteristically rude to, in the hospital, Melvin is forced to care for Simon’s dog and confront his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in an environment that, unlike his usual circumstances, he cannot control. Through this small act of mental and physical release from his strict regimen of order and social seclusion, Melvin begins to grow, disallowing his life to be solely mandated by mental illness. With his newfound sense of kindness and almost ease, he begins to help Simon, as well as the only waitress at the local diner who can serve him, Carol Conelley (Helen Hunt), and her sick son. By the end of the film, Melvin progressively starts taking his meds, striving toward health and creating friendships and romantic relationships with those he cares about most. 

Portrayal of Mental Health: 8/10

8) Welcome to Me (2014) - Borderline Personality Disorder - Amazon Prime Video, IMDb TV, YouTube Movies

After miraculously winning an $86 million lottery jackpot, Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig), diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), makes the impulsive decision to stop taking her meds and buy her own talk show. Following the philosophy that everything is created “on a DNA level by what we think,” Alice genuinely believes that she has manifested her present successes by watching Oprah for years with nothing but hope. This philosophy only fails Alice when she begins to realize that her mental illness will not disappear if she simply wills it away. Despite a humorous portrayal from Wiig and the extraordinary nature of Alice’s circumstances, the realities of her BPD, including emotional instability and impaired social relationships, are made clear. Through the film’s outlandish and comically impossible plotline, the viewer learns that mental illness cannot be ignored, and it is only when you realize what you truly have in life that you can begin to heal. Welcome to Me ultimately shows that regardless of Alice’s mental illness, extreme luck and self-centric view of the world, she is, at her core, a human being with emotions, hopes and flaws similar to the rest of us. 

Portrayal of Mental Health: 9/10

9) What About Bob? (1991) - Anxiety - HBO

In What About Bob?, Bob Wiley (Bill Murray), an almost paralyzed multi-phobic personality that is constantly in a state of panic, finds help in Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss), a self-involved psychiatrist unaware of the level of attention Bob requires. Adopting Dr. Marvin’s philosophy of “baby steps.” Bob characteristically takes this advice a step too far and follows Dr. Marvin on his family vacation to New Hampshire. While this situation initially causes stress and violates their doctor-patient relationship, a sense of acceptance from and connection to Dr. Marvin’s family begins to help Bob deal with his high levels of anxiety in a healthier way.

Portrayal of Mental Health: 6/10

While I gave each movie a ranking, everyone's exerpiences and opinions on mental health is different. I reccommend that everyone watches the movies themselves and see how their rankings compare. 

Sources:

Greenstein, Laura. “7 Of the Best Movies About Mental Health.” NAMI Tyler, 1 Mar. 2017, namityler.org/blogs/.

Greenstein, Luna. “The Best Movies About Mental Health.” NAMI, 20 Dec. 2017, www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/December-2017/The-Best-Movies-About-Mental-....

Faith Bartell

Delaware '23

Faith Bartell is a junior Media Communication major the University of Delaware with minors in English and Economics. She is also a current Editor for Her Campus Delaware. She is a lover of smiling, crying, laughing and of course, writing. She hopes to pursue all of the above in the future.
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