Because mental health issues are so prevalent, it’s always an appropriate time to discover movies about mental illness that are available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or streaming services.
Many films are inherently moving. They often speak of struggles that we might be uncomfortable discussing with others. At the same time they can also help people relate to situations in their own life.
For anyone that wants to take a deep dive into the inner workings of the human mind, movies offer a wonderful option.
Understandably, sometimes movies leave people who actually suffer from mental illness in real life feeling uncomfortable, although that is not the intent.
Some movies are relatable and cautious about how they approach mental illness, such as Forrest Gump. Others are more blatant and controversial, like the Joker.
By nature, movies are dramatic and can be inaccurate at times. Still, movies can be therapeutic, and allow us to peek inside the minds of others.
Below is a list of mental health movies that covers many types of mental illness issues.
7 Movies About Mental Illness and Mental Health Disorders
1. Rain Man (1988)
Featured Mental Illness: Autistic Savant
Rain Man is a timeless classic that has won several awards, and it was the highest-grossing film of 1988.
Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise (Charlie Babbit) do a great job of portraying autism as a gift, rather than simply a mental illness.
The film is based on the true story of an American autistic savant named Laurence Kim Peek (1951 to 2009) and it is a heartwarming story of two brothers reconnecting, and a journey of frustration to understanding.
Some feel that Rain Man is dated and stereotypical, while others find it meaningful and inspiring even today.
2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Featured Mental Illness: Various disorders that take place inside a mental institution
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a classic American film based on the 1962 novel by the same name, written by Ken Kesey.
Jack Nicholson plays Randle McMurphy, the star of the show who’s admitted to a mental hospital because he pled insanity in court when charged with rape and assault.
He later realized that escaping his prison sentence for what he thought would be an easy ride was a bad choice. When learning he could be kept in the mental institution, McMurphy plotted his escape.
Although not about any particular mental illness, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a film that depicts life inside a mental institution and its inhabitants in a way many people had rarely ever witnessed or considered until seeing it on the big screen.
Related: 13 Movies About Depression
3. I Am Sam (2001)
Featured Mental Illness: Adult Mental Disabilities and resulting parenting struggles
I am Sam is an American drama written and directed by Jessie Nelson and Kristine Johnson.
After researching issues facing adults with intellectual disabilities, Nelson decided to cast two actors with disabilities in key roles. Sean Penn plays the lead character of the film, Sam Dawson.
The story depicts a father’s relationship with his daughter after his wife left him, following a legal battle that’s fought by his lawyer and newfound friend Rita Harrison, played by Michelle Pfeiffer.
Sam’s daughter is put into foster care, later to be returned to Sam who asks Rita to help him bring up his daughter. Rita becomes a close friend who learns of her own (socially acceptable) disabilities while helping Sam.
4. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Featured Mental Illness: Paranoid Schizophrenia
A Beautiful Mind is an Oscar-winning film that closely depicted John Nash’s real-life struggles with schizophrenia.
John Nash is a somewhat stereotypical example of a mathematical genius and the inventor of the game theory. The early symptoms of Nash’s schizophrenia appeared when he went to study mathematics at Princeton.
Nash is portrayed as socially awkward and doesn’t speak very confidently. His delusions and hallucinations are accurately depicted though, allowing the viewer access to the inner workings of the schizophrenic mind.
John goes on and off his medication that prevents his delusions because he says it impairs his ability to think and work on his research.
5. Still Alice (2015)
Featured Mental Illness: Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
In the award-winning movie, “Still Alice,” Julianne Moore plays Alice Howland, who’s a successful professor of linguistics that gets diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease after her 50th birthday.
The realistic depiction of dementia follows Alice as the disease creeps up on her and takes over her life, often relying on her mobile phone to keep her connected and organized.
People with dementia say that watching Still Alice is like looking in the mirror. This is a great movie for anyone that wants to learn about what it feels like to live with Alzheimer’s disease.
6. Infinitely Polar Bear (2014)
Featured Mental Illness: Bipolar Disorder
Infinitely Polar Bear is a film that follows Cam Stuart, a man suffering from Bipolar Disorder, who is played by Mark Ruffalo.
Cam has a young family and is hospitalized with Bipolar Disorder. When he gets out he’s unemployable and his wife decides to go back to college, while Cam is left to take care of their two young daughters.
His daughters are often embarrassed by how open their dad is, and his wide array of unfinished projects. But this upbeat movie follows how children can thrive in an unorthodox environment.
Related: 9 Movies About Bipolar Disorder
7. Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things (2015)
Featured Mental Illness: Hoarding Disorder and the Basis of Anxiety and Depression
Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things is a documentary film produced by Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn that celebrates the minimalist approach, where less is more.
How does “stuff” define us? As a culture, we’ve become obsessed with getting more and more stuff, thinking that it’ll make us happy when in reality we’ve been tricked by advertisers into consuming more stuff.
Marketing firms have seduced us to be continually on the hunt, searching for more, while we overlook the important things in life.
The producers of the film realized they were caught in this trap, so they decided to fight depression through an examination and elimination of materialism and over-consumption.
Movies About Mental Illness Offer Viewpoints Through Film
It’s human nature for many of us to periodically get stuck in our own way of thinking.
Mental illness movies allow us to view the world through a different lens by giving us access to other people’s perspectives from all walks of life.
The above mental health movies are available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services, and provide carefully considered viewpoints of a wide variety of mental illnesses.
Other Movies About Mental Illness
There are many different types of mental health issues that impact people of all ages. The films above provide a sample of the most common ones.
It’s difficult to cover all the mental illness movies ever made because there have been so many. Below is a list of additional films that have received critical acclaim. Most of these can be found on a wide range of streaming services.
12 More Movies About Mental Illness
- Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
- Good Will Hunting (1997)
- Patch Adams (1998)
- Girl, Interrupted (1999)
- Matchstick Men (2003)
- Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
- Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
- Split (2016)
- Joker (2019)
- Uncut Gems (2019)
- The King of Staten Island (2020)