Movies that educate us about mental illnesses and disorders

Movies that educate us about mental illnesses and disorders April 13, 2013

They say a picture speaks a thousand words, so surely a movie speaks a million. I know that due to what happened to Matthew Warren, there are large numbers of people currently seeking to better understand Mental illnesses and disorders (see How can I recognize a possible mental illness?)

I will be continuing my series of posts on the subject, but before I get back into it, I thought I would share a list of three movies that I would recommend you watch. Why not pick one of them to watch this weekend? In the comments section feel free to share other films that you have found helpful as you aim to understand these conditions better. Please note that mental illnesses are of course distinct from developmental disorders.

Note that none of these movies aim to turn you into a psychiatrist. But all of them will give you an emotional connection with people who suffer from psychiatric conditions, and in some cases will help with destigmatisation.

Many with mental illness deserve not just our compassion, but our admiration for what they have achieved. None more so than Temple Grandin, whose life has been made into an excelent TV movie starting Claire Danes better known for her betrayal of a spy with Bipolar Disorder in the TV show Homeland. The IMDB page will tell you more, and it is available in the TV Shows section of iTunes. This film charts the remarkable success this lady with autism had in changing the way cattle are managed across America. This is probably my favourite of the lot.

In A Beautiful Mind actor Russell Crowe gives surely his most engaging performance yet as a man with Schizophrenia. The film seeks to give an insight into what it is like to live with delusions and hallucinations that characterise some mental illnesses. There is a delicious twist to this film’s plot that caught me out completely the first time I saw it so I will not spoil it for you. Again you can read more about this film at IMDB or on the iTunes store.

In Awakenings starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro we see that patients who are “locked in” and apparently unable to interact with the world can sometimes be woken up by medication. If only it was always this simple for psychiatrists. But still, this film is rightly considered a classic and will tug at your heart strings. Again it is listed on IMDB and Apple’s iTunes.

Now it’s your turn. What movies would YOU add to this list?

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  • dl

    Good list. I’d definitely want to see Silverlinings Playbook added. Great movie.

  • Kelli

    Yes, movies can teach us so much. I agree with with Silver Linings Playbook being added…Temple Grandin is a fabulous movie about a woman with Autism, not mental illness. Big difference.

    • Autism is classified as a mental disorder (see but not an illness. The reason I recommend it so strongly goes beyond Autism to the “otherness” that many feel about all mental illness and disorders. What we see here is a woman who is different to others who achieves. I think understanding how that can be the case is very much a part of mental illness and disorder education. Ie if you see that Grandin have so much, perhaps you can see that others with other illnesses or disorders can also.

  • Mary Grace Meland

    The Indian film Barfi does a great job of showing the humanity of both an autistic girl and a deaf/mute man. The actors are incredible and the movie is enjoyable and poses interesting questions about our underestimations of the disabled.

  • Dorfl

    We actually watched ‘A Beautiful Mind’ in psychology class in high school. It is a very good movie.

  • There was an excellent prescription for the church on this topic on Internet Monk last week:

  • great that in Iron Man 3 the superhero is portrayed as living with a mental illness (anxiety attacks) and getting on with life. similar attitude to in Homeland on TV (bipolar). great news on stigma

  • Karen Butler

    Interestingly, the film “A Beautiful Mind” mis-educates viewers about John Nash’s recovery from schizophrenia. In the film, John Nash is heard to say, “I take the newer medications.” But,

    “Former Boston Globe science journalist Robert Whitaker, author of “Mad
    in America”, reported in 2002, “The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill has praised the film’s director, Ron Howard, for showing the ‘vital role of medication’ in Nash’s recovery.” However, notes Whitaker, SylviaNasar in her biography of Nash (also called A Beautiful Mind), reports something quite different about Nash’s recovery. Specifically, Nasar writes:

    Nash’s refusal take the antipsychotic drugs after 1970, and indeed during most of the periods when he wasn’t in the hospital in the 1960s, may have been fortuitous. Taken regularly, such drugs, in a high percentage of cases, produce horrible, persistent, symptom like tardive dyskinesia. . . and a mental fog, all of which would have made his gentle reentry into the world of mathematics a near impossibility.

    Nash’s recovery without psychiatric drugs is no anomaly. A third of so-called “chronic schizophrenic” patients released from Vermont State Hospital in the late 1950s completely recovered, reported psychologist Courtenay Harding in 1987; and she found that patients in the “best-outcomes” group shared one common factor: all had stopped taking antipsychotic drugs.”

    From an article discussing the movie, here:

  • Karen Butler

    My favorite movie about this subject is “Lars and the Real Girl” — it is so moving to me how the whole community rallies around Lars to help him feel safe enough to give up the delusion that the love doll he has bought and chastely keeps at his brother’s house is really a flesh and blood woman. Lars suffered trauma when his mother died giving birth to him, and his father retreated into his grief.

    Also wonderful to me is the small town doctor who doubles as the town therapist, she is extraordinarily wise, saying to Gus, Lar’s brother’s concerning his reluctance to go with Lar’s delusions about the doll — “But she *is* real. You just don’t like how this makes you look.” So true, so true! Even in the midst of another’s terrible suffering, it becomes all about us, even when it is someone we love who is acting out their trauma in unusual ways.

    The movie is PG-13, and Roger Ebert says about the delicate matter of Bianca being a love doll:

    “The movie somehow implies without quite saying that, although the
    doll comes advertised with “orifices,” Lars does not use Bianca for sex.
    No, she is an ideal companion, not least because she can never touch
    him. With a serenity bordering on the surreal, Lars takes her
    everywhere, even to church. She is as real as anyone in his life can
    possibly be, at this point in the development of his social abilities.”

    Robert Ebert loved the movie as well as I did — here’s his 3 1/2 star review:

  • James Alliott

    Helen is an exceptional film about severe depression
    Also the perks of being a wallflower is worth a watch

  • Anthony Schmitt

    Anthony Schmitt

    . Mr. Jones starring Richard Gere is an excellent movie about Bipolar Disorder. Gere plays a character and his life long struggle with BP

  • LJ

    A newly edited true story is about to hit the bookstores. The events are similar to Claire Danes portrayal of Temple Grandin, but the particulars of the story are singular and the twists and turns in the story make it a little more intense.

    The person is about to graduate from a top U.S. Law School.

    Please click: on this Amazon link: