October 10 is observed as World Mental Health day. The day gives a chance for people and mental health practitioners to speak about their experiences — the good, the bad, and the ugly. Apart from listening to lived experiences, a great way to learn about how to navigate mental illness is through films. Some of the most vivid and intimate depictions of mental health can be seen in films. Sensitively made movies on the subject teach us a whole lot about the silent battles the people around us go through and what they make of it.
Here are some of our favorite movies that have left us with lessons that endure in all spheres of our lives.
1. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Based on a true story, A Beautiful Mind is an Oscar winning film that depicts the life of mathematician John Forbes Nash, who lived with schizophrenia. The film beautifully portrays the difficulties John encountered throughout his life, including paranoia and delusions that severely altered his promising career and deeply affected him. Despite the voices in his head trying to stifle him, Nash held onto his intelligence. He managed to create a stable world within his psyche and showed us how to live knowing that a large part of our pain is inevitable.
2. Still Alice (2015)
This film is a devastating portrayal of Alice, a lively, active 50-year-old professor of linguistics played by Julianne Moore, who is given an early-onset Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis. The speech Alice gives at an Alzheimer’s conference exposing the sad reality of losing one’s memories and with them one’s identity is a particularly hard hitting scene. The film beautifully taught us that the things that count the most are the memories other people have of you and how you impacted their life. Even as Alice’s memories disappear, she takes respite in knowing that there are beautiful memories left of her with other people.
3. Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Girl, Interrupted is a film portraying a young woman in the 1960s struggling with the uncertainty of her own mental illness. Susanna Kayson enters a mental health facility on the advice of her parents, where she later receives a Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis. She starts to fall apart as soon as she walks into the mental hospital. One of our favorite quotes in the film is:
“Crazy isn’t being broken, or swallowing a dark secret. It’s you or me… amplified.”
We are reminded by this quote that we are not hopeless causes or shattered messes. We are most definitely not defective. We are just normal humans attempting to make sense of the chaos of life.
4. The Soloist (2009)
This film features Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx and chronicles the friendship between a Los Angeles journalist and a homeless, schizophrenic musician with a Julliard degree. Throughout the film, Downey struggles between being a good friend and trying to “fix” Foxx, ultimately delivering a powerful theme. Steve struggles with whether or not he should try to ‘cure’ Nathaniel’s schizophrenia or whether he should accept him for who he is and simply try to be his friend. Without giving away the story, the film’s conclusion made us realize that true friendship entails loving and accepting others for who they are as well as for who they are not, even if they suffer from a mental illness that prevents them from fully living their lives.
5. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
Gilbert (Johnny Depp), is left in charge of his morbidly obese mother and developmentally disabled brother, Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio), after the death of his father. When love enters his life, the arrangement is abruptly put into question. This is one of those rare films that casts a light on the struggles of the caregiver, an important role that is often overlooked in mental health depictions. With the arrival of Gilbert’s love interest as well his newfound interest in life, his stone-cold exterior cracks just enough to let some warmth and light back into the Grape home. This ushers in a new era of acceptance, shattering the stigma of mental health issues and focusing instead on reuniting as a family.