One out of every four adults over the age of 18 in the United States suffers from mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This is an estimated 57.7 million people, making mental disorders the leading cause of disability in America.
It’s no surprise then that stories about issues of mental health are heavily woven into American cinema. Here is a list of ten films about mental illness.
1. Leaving Las Vegas
Ben Sanderson, the lead character, suffers from clinical depression and has lost everything due to his alcoholism.
He goes to Las Vegas to drink himself to death, and in the process, forms a relationship with a troubled prostitute.
This film is based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the same title, written by John O’Brien. Sadly, O’Brien committed suicide two weeks into the film’s production.
2. Punch-Drunk Love
In this romantic comedy/drama, Barry Egan is afflicted with an anxiety disorder.
The film highlights his lonely existence marked by occasional fits of rage, and reveals a family where emotional abuse is the norm.
Barry has to navigate the symptoms of his life and mental health while falling in love for the first time.
3. Silver Linings Playbook
This film follows Pat Solitano Jr., recently released from a mental health facility, through his struggles with bipolar disorder.
During the course of this drama/comedy, he meets Tiffany Maxwell, an unemployed widow and well known sex addict, and they form an unconventional bond.
Their relationship forces them to examine themselves, and ultimately helps them move forward in life.
4. The King’s Speech
Based on true events, this historical film takes place in the 1930’s and is about Britain’s King George VI, whose social anxiety disorder manifests itself through a debilitating stutter.
This story focuses on the King’s relationship to a speech therapist and his ultimate psychological triumph over more than just his stutter.
5. Little Miss Sunshine
To fulfill seven-year-old Olive’s dream of being in a beauty pageant, the Hoover family is taking a road trip to Redondo Beach, California in this comedy/drama.
Along the way, we learn that Olive’s teenage brother has taken an angry vow of silence, her clinically depressed uncle has recently attempted suicide, and that her grandfather, a World War II veteran, has been using heroin.
Beset by problems for the entire journey, including the fatal heroin overdose of the grandfather, the Hoovers learn that they need each other’s support.
6. The Deer Hunter
Posttraumatic stress disorder is center stage in this dramatic film about three friends – Mike, Nick and Steve – from a small industrial town in Pennsylvania. The three join the military and leave for the Vietnam War.
The atrocities they’re forced to witness and participate in leave all three friends physically and mentally damaged.
Steve is in a veteran’s hospital recuperating.
Mike comes home, but is unable to cope with the attention from friends and family, and no longer feels he can lead the life he once had. He returns to Saigon and finds that Nick, completely lost to himself, is playing Russian Roulette while those gathered gamble on the outcome.
7. Fight Club
So disillusioned with the useless, everyday grind of his job and what he sees as a lack of meaning in the world, the unnamed lead character in this film suffers from not only insomnia, but also develops dissociative identity disorder.
Through an alter-ego named Tyler Durden, a personality he’s not aware of until later in the story, he takes control of his life and creates fight clubs across the country that wreak havoc on society.
In the end, the unnamed character is forced into a violent confrontation with his destructive alter-ego. A self-inflicted bullet through the cheek wounds him, but kills Durden.
8. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
This story takes place in a mental institution, and many of the characters suffer from psychological disorders.
The film revolves around Randle Patrick “Mac” McMurphy, a criminal trying to avoid serving his sentence in a real prison, and his battle for influence against the head nurse, Mildred Ratched.
Throughout the film, Mac tries to inspire his fellow residents to take more control of their lives by breaking the rules of the institution.
Unlike Nurse Ratched, he shows patience and respect for their unique problems, though it ultimately robs him of his life.
9. Rain Man
Charlie, arguably suffering from narcissistic personality disorder, discovers that he has an older, autistic brother that his family had shipped off when he was younger.
On his way out to California, he picks up his brother, Raymond. Charlie learns that Raymond is a savant with an incredible aptitude for numbers, and selfishly decides to make a pit stop in Vegas where he can use his brother’s capacity with math for financial gain.
Through their trials, Charlie begins to look past himself and love his brother.
10. A Beautiful Mind
Based on the extraordinary life of Nobel Laureate John Nash, this film chronicles his struggles with schizophrenia.
While teaching at MIT, Nash is tapped by the Department of Defense to decipher encrypted enemy communications. It’s during this period that his condition begins to worsen, experiencing intense hallucinations that put himself and his family in danger.
Eventually Nash comes to terms with his schizophrenia, and though he refuses to take medication, he learns to ignore the characters in his delusions with the help of his wife and friends. He goes on to win the Nobel Prize for Economics.
With so many people in America suffering from some form of mental illness, it’s no wonder the topic has made its way into the storyline of many great films. While this may be a reflection of society, many have commented that the portrayal in cinema has helped shed light on many misunderstood illnesses while at the same helped those suffering with mental illness feel less alone and isolated by their disease.