Movies About Mental Health

Alyssa Burris, Writer

When it comes to representing different mental disorders through cinema, there tends to be a very fine line between helpful representation or informative entertainment, and unrealistic romanticization or, worse, adding to the stigma of the illness. 

As we all know, Hollywood has a dangerous habit of romanticizing or even sexualizing neurodivergence. When young children consume this media where eating disorders, self harm, and addictions are so normalized, they learn to adapt to the culture around them and assume that it is normal or cool to partake in these detrimental habits. 

However, the intent of cinema and film is to deliver a foreign experience to the viewer. Sometimes, exposure to these dark topics are necessary to deliver the proper experience, or to get an individual to understand the severity of the situation, to warn or to educate. 

This article may include some descriptions of events and characteristics that could be considered unsuitable for some of our readers.

Girl, Interrupted is an American psychological drama film, made in 1999. The film focuses on the life of Susana Kaysen (played by Wynona Rider) and her experience with being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Susana consensually attends a psychiatric ward, intended to keep her safe from herself following a suicide attempt. At the ward, we meet several other girls struggling with various mental disorders, including a pathological liar, a diagnosed sociopath, trauma victims, and those who are severely depressed.

Unfortunately, this film has a tendency of attempting to transform a tragic and complex illness into something desirable or romantic. Despite the unfortunate romanticization or Susana’s disorder, the film does hold some educational value. During the time of filming, and even in the present, Borderline Personality disorder is a topic that we simply do not know much about as a society.

The drama certainly raised awareness for the illness, and at the very least introduced many viewers to the idea of mood disorders and clinical instability. Many viewers were upset with the way that the film implies that Susana was simply a lazy young woman who drove herself crazy. Others were proud of the film, seeing that people who struggle with this diagnosis can be passionate and intelligent people, and are capable of things beyond the average mind. 


The Aviator is an American Drama, made in 2004. The movie depicts the life of Howard Hughes (played by Leonardo Dicaprio) who is a very successful public figure. The movie delves into Howard’s life behind closed doors. Our main character struggles with general agoraphobia and depression, and a worsening cleanliness-related obsessive compulsive disorder.

The primary issue regarding Howard’s mental health, is the lack of names and categories for his symptoms given the time period in which the film is set in. This film has a reputation of accurately representing the complexity of obsessive compulsive disorder, more specifically contamination-related OCD. In one scene, Howard is pictured scrubbing his hands so hard that he begins to bleed. He then gets the blood on his shirt, and attempts to clean it. He then is struck with the realization that in order to exit the bathroom, he must touch the dirty door knob and get his hands dirty again. This inflicts a panic in Howard, unsure of what to do.

This trope of publicly successful  people struggling so intensely behind the scenes never gets old. Movies like this remind us that there is always more than what meets the eye, and that emotions have always been our greatest ruler.