Top Movies About Mental Illness


Many films center their storylines around mental illness, or use it as an underlying theme. Here we will look at 20 of the best that have raised awareness of certain disorders, albeit it often in an extreme and occasionally inaccurate way. These movies tend to receive mixed reactions, with some people feeling that the films increase the stigma around certain issues, for example dissociative disorder. In general it can be useful to bring mental illness into the public domain, to encourage conversation and understanding of something that is frequently hidden behind closed doors.

20. Fight Club

This bizarre movie has a wonderful twist, where we discover that we have been witnessing dissociative disorder, or multiple personality disorder as it is sometimes known, at play. The two main characters take us on a ride through the mind of someone suffering with this mental illness.

19. Nightcrawler

Lou Bloom, the character who becomes the “Night Crawler” is a clear sufferer of antisocial personality disorder and is likely to be on the autistic spectrum. As the movie progresses, Bloom’s choices become more troubling, as he crosses the line from observer to participant in crime scenes. He apparently feels no empathy for what he is viewing, appearing psychopathic in his lack of emotion.

18. Misery

An unforgettable horror which explores delusional and borderline personality disorders of one of the main characters, who becomes obsessed with an author that she rescues. She claims to be his ‘Number One Fan’, but things turn sour very fast when he fails to please her.

17. Psycho

Dissociative Identity Disorder is characterised horrifically in this Alfred Hitchcock classic. Norman Bates’ relationship with his dominating mother is explored in a creepy suspense filled horror. Things become more intense as a secretary checks into Norman’s hotel.

16. Fatal Attraction

Borderline Personality Disorder is the focus of this movie, as one of the main characters demonstrates characteristics of this mental illness. This is an extreme version of the disorder, killing is not a typical symptom by any means. It is an interesting depiction of the roller coaster of emotions and obsession that may result from situations such as an extra marital affair.

15. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

The storyline of this interesting movie focuses on an introvert freshman, busy finding his feet – before being dragged headfirst into the real world by his new friends. It explores post traumatic stress disorder and clinical depression and it’s impact on the lives of young people.

14. Silver Linings Playbook

This is not your typical romantic movie. The storyline involves a young man who has recently left a mental institute and is attempting to put the pieces of his life together. He meets a young woman who may have more problems than even he has himself. The Silver Linings Playbook explores obsessive compulsive disorders and anxiety, as well as bipolar and borderline personality disorders.

13. Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer

Antisocial Personality Disorder is on the spectrum of psychopathy, and in the case of this movie we see how it leads Henry (based on a real person) to the path of murder. It offers a terrifyingly convincing insight into the mind of a serial killer.

12. Jacob’s Ladder

This distressing movie shows how post-traumatic stress disorder can be triggered by many traumatic life events, in this case the death of a child. The main character, who is also a veteran of the Vietnam war struggles desperately with dissociation, and severe episodes of delusion.

11. Black Swan

This bizarre, complex movie takes us through a journey of the darkness behind the beautiful facade of a ballerina, as she gradually loses her mind. We are shown aspects of dissociative disorder, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive personality disorders and schizophrenia.

10. The Virgin Suicides

This harrowing movie depicts the journey through clinical depression, as a group of male friends become obsessed with some mysterious sisters, who are controlled by their extremely strict, religious upbringing.

9. Requiem For A Dream

This movie focuses around substance abuse disorder, with characters suffering the severe effects of using a cocktail of drugs including heroin, amphetamines, cocaine, barbiturates, alcohol, benzodiazepines, MDMA, LSD and cannabis.

8. Drop Dead Fred

In this unusual movie, the main character is a young girl who was troubled by an imaginary friend as a child. He returns to cheer her up when she experiences tough times as an adult, causing chaos at every turn. It appears that the imaginary friend is a form of schizophrenia, which was created to comfort and distract from difficult emotions.

7. Donnie Darko

This confusing cult classic movie shows the events surrounding the main character’s disturbing visions. It depicts the teenager fighting with his delusional disorder, trying to understand the hallucinations that he is experiencing.

6. Driving Miss Daisy

This heart warming story explores the traumatic facets of dementia. It shows the friendship between an old Jewish woman and her chauffeur is the American South, how is develops over the years. The chauffeur finds himself in the position of comforter and supporter, as the mental impairment slowly starts to disorientate and agitate his employer.

5. Rain Man

Rain Man is a well loved movie which centers on the issue of autism and its affect on the relationship between two brothers. This movie really helped to bring the autistic spectrum to the public eye, using a sensitive, and sometimes comedic script to explore the disorder.

4. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

This movie is based inside a mental institution, and centres around a criminal, Mac, who has probably tricked his way inside, using mental illness as a way of avoiding state prison. While Mac shows no obvious signs of a mental disorder himself, we get to meet a host of characters who are suffering from various illnesses, such as schizophrenia, paranoia and other personality disorders. Electroshock therapy and other treatments are also shown, offering an insight into this world behind doors.

3. Leaving Las Vegas

This movie focuses on alcoholism and substance abuse. It is powerful and emotional depiction of the damage that such disorders can cause on individuals and relationships. The main character follows a destructive path, courting with suicide and other harrowing issues.

2. The Butterfly Effect

This movie is a thriller based around the main character Evan Treborn, who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, memory loss and severe clinical depression. Evan blocks painful memories from his childhood, and eventually has to face them, while discovering the ability to alter his past.

1. The Wolf Of Wall Street

This movie is based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, and his meteoric rise. He becomes an extremely wealthy stock-broker before he catastrophically falls due to crime and corruption. The film portrays substance abuse disorder, with cocaine, alcohol, methaqualone being used throughout. The main character also displays some characteristics of a personality disorder.

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