Best Hollywood Movies On Mental Illness, That Have A More Realistic Approach

Bollywood filmmakers can learn how sensitive issues, like mental illness, should be dealt with in films


The Kangana Ranaut and Rajkummar Rao starrer, Mental Hai Kya, has received a lot of flak, even before it’s release. From ordinary people, to psychologists and mental health experts have expressed their displeasure at the way the film has depicted people with mental illness in their poster as well as the trailer of the film.

It’s a subject that is sensitive and needs to be dealt with very carefully. There are some Hollywood films on mental illness that have brilliantly portrayed various mental health issues in the right way, with a lot of empathy.

Silver Linings Playbook : Bipolar and OCD

What’s good about the movie is that it does not glamorise mental illness
What’s good about the movie is that it does not glamorise mental illness

An offbeat romance which stars Bradley Cooper as Pat, a bipolar man who is serving out an eight-month sentence in a mental institution. He has been put in the institution for beating his wife Nikki’s lover. When Pat is released he moves into his parents’ house.

Pat then wants to sort out his life, rebuild it and also get his wife back. and that includes getting his wife back. He also stops his medications as he thinks he no longer needs them, and a healthy lifestyle is all he needs. While Pat’s father, Pat Sr. played by Robert De Niro, is living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and he obsesses over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Things take a turn when Pat meets Tiffany, a young widow, at a dinner get together. Tiffany has problems of her own, yet the two become friends and share a love/hate relationship. They try and help each other in achieving their own goals. What’s good about the movie is that it does not glamorise mental illness nor does it go over the top, it is relatable and subtly gives the audience an idea about what people suffering from bipolar disorder go through.

Girl, Interrupted : Borderline personality disorder (BPD)

The film was loved by young women as they could relate to it

Set in the 1960s Girl, Interrupted is about Susanna Kaysen (Winona Ryder), who is a woman diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Susanna lands in the psychiatric hospital after her suicide attempt.

Here at the hospital, Susanna meets other women struggling with other mental health issues, one of them being Lisa Rowe (Angelina Jolie).

Like the upcoming Bollywood movie, Mental Hai Kya Girl, Interrupted too got its share of flax but the film was loved by young women as they could relate to it. The film gives us an insight on the effects of mental illness on the one suffering from it and also how it affects the people around them.

I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Ok : Delusion, A Rare Psychiatric Syndrome

Young-Goon, has a rare psychiatric syndrome

I’m A Cyborg is directed by the popular Korean Park Chan-wook, who has directed films like Lady Vengeance and Oldboy. The film is a romantic comedy about a young woman, Young-Goon, who has a rare psychiatric syndrome and is delusional. She thinks she is a cyborg and runs on batteries and not food. She refuses to eat food and is put into a psychiatric hospital after she slashes her wrist, in an attempt to plug wires into her body.

In the hospital she meets Il-Sun, another inmate with a personality trait.

Il-Sun convinces Young-Goon to eat her food. It’s a beautiful story where the two fall in love and survive with each other’s help.

A Beautiful Mind : Schizophrenia

It's all about overcoming a mental illness.
It’s all about overcoming a mental illness.

Inspired by the true story of John Forbes Nash Jr.(Russel Crowe), A Beautiful Mind is an adaptation of the biography by the same name, written by Sylvia Nasar. John Nash is a mathematician who becomes famous after he discovers a game theory, that contradicts the past economic theory. But sadly he is a schizophrenic and it begins to take complete control of his mind.

The film beautifully shows how he gains back his mental strength and eventually wins a prize, and is recognised as the great mathematician we know him as today. The film is about overcoming a mental illness.

Black Swan : Pressure And Stress Leads To Mental Illness

She tries to show the world she is okay, but she is stressed

Black Swan is a psychological thriller. The film is about a professional ballerina, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), who suffers from many mental issues because of the pressure she faces as a professional ballerina. She tries to show the world she is okay, but she is stressed with the pressure and that leads to her scratching herself, stabbing herself and starves so she can stay thin etc.

The film gives a picture as to how the need to be perfect and stressing about, it can lead to self harm.

Good Will Hunting : Depression

Humorous and at the same time uplifting

An abusive childhood leads janitor Will Hunting (Matt Damone), into depression. He has a genius-level IQ and is very good at solving incredible puzzles, that the college students from the college he works in as a janitor, can’t solve. But sadly because of his past, his mind is troubled.

It is the therapist Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), who helps him battle his depression and rebuild his life once again. Good Will Hunting is humorous and at the same time uplifting.

Lars And The Real Girl : Fear Of Abandonment

Sometimes hte love of a family and community is all it takes to cure

A comedy drama directed by Craig Gillespie, Lars and the Real Girl has Ryan Gosling play a man who is an introvert and is socially awkward. Instead of interacting with real people, he forms a romantic relationship with a sex doll named Bianca. Lars has a fear of abandonment since he lost his mother when he was only an infant and his father is not very close to him, while his brother leaves town. All these incidents leaves Lars with a fear of getting intimate with people.

Lars And The Real Girl is a beautiful film that shows how the love of a family and community can help people with mental illness recover.

Jacob’s Ladder : Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Not a film for the faint hearted

Jacob’s Ladder is a story about a Vietnam war veterran, Jacob who experiences hallucinations post his return from the war. The film is a psychological horror directed by Adrian Lyne. It deals with the subject of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) where a person starts hallucinating.

It’s not a film for the faint hearted as it’s considered as one of the most disturbing psychological horror films. It gives us an insight into how badly a person who has gone through extreme trauma suffers. A person suffering from PTSD goes through hell, from disturbing dreams and thoughts, mental and physical distress and suicidal tendencies, they go through a scary life.

Most films misrepresent mentally ill people as being crazy, disruptive, etc. and portray mental illness in a negative way or make a joke about it but thankfully there are some films like the ones listed above, that have a more realistic approach when it comes to portraying mental illness. They make people more aware and sympathetic towards people who are suffering from mental illness.