World Mental Health Day: Seven times movies got Mental Health right

The portrayal of those with mental illness has certainly changed.

But how far have we progressed in our understanding of those suffering from mental illness?

As part of World Mental Health Day, and in an attempt to further lift the stigma around those living with a mental health issue, we have curated a list of some of the most accurate and moving movies featuring a character with mental illness.

Though we have come far, there’s still far to go.

Black Swan

It is notoriously hard to make a film about eating disorders without it turning into a how-to guide, and the balance in creating a character who suffers from an eating disorder is a hard one to strike.

In Black Swan, Natalie Portman’s Nina Sayers deals with not only an eating disorder but also hallucinations as she strives for perfection as a ballerina.

By allowing Sayers’ experiences to move throughout the movie without comment or judgement, the audience feels the weight of the ever-present haunting living with an eating disorder can feel like.


Black Swan is just as much about mental illness in the grand scheme of things (particularly in the world of professional dance) as it is about the very real impacts for the one person, in particular, dealing with it.


Bessie: Queen Latifah stars as Bessie Smith in her biopic (Image: HBO)


Queen Latifah gave the role of Blues singer Bessie Smith her all – including glimpses into Bessie’s struggle with alcoholism and depression.

Bessie also deals with issues of racism and the toll it takes on the mental and physical health of the African American community.

Bessie won seven awards but as a HBO movie, the film did not have a theatrical release.

The bio-pic is only one of a few movies to put the lives of women of colour at its forefront, including their mental health.

Jacob's Ladder

Jacob’s Ladder: The movie shows the realities of living with PTSD (Image: Carolco Pictures)

Jacob’s Ladder

The double-edged sword of sexism is deeply cutting for men, too, who are expected to keep their feelings bottled up – especially when it comes to PTSD.Jacob’s Ladder gives a very accurate portrayal of a Vietnam War veteran Jacob, who suffers from flashbacks and hallucinations due to his experience as a soldier.

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As a psychological horror film, Jacob’s Ladder is one of the most haunting movies to date, perhaps even more so due to its accuracy.

It gives a glimpse into the isolation, fear, and debilitation PTSD can create.


Frozen: Elsa’s isolation is said to be a metaphor for living with depression (Image: Disney)


Though definitely a feel-good movie, Frozen did an admirable job at showing how isolating mental illness can be.

Many adults who watched Frozen commented how Elsa, who is never labelled with mental illness, represents the loneliness that can come with any number of mental illnesses.

The fear of repeating past mistakes leads Elsa to lock herself away, a symptom many living with depression can relate to.

Of course, Frozen offers a patented Disney happy ending – reality is far from simple, but support and understanding from friends and family does go a long way as the cartoon flick tries to demonstrate.

Inside Out

Inside Out: Disney puts teen emotions at the forefront of Inside Out (Image: Disney)

Inside Out

Another star for Disney, whose Pixar movie Inside Out brought teenage emotions to the forefront.

Inside Out reinforces the theme that understanding, accepting, and expressing your feelings is healthy.

For any young person dealing with feelings of sadness, anxiety, and fear, Inside Out was likely an exciting movie to see.

Representation is important especially when mental health issues are so often deemed taboo or not taken seriously and Inside Out gives kids the chance to feel their feelings wholly.

Lars and the Real Girl

Not all movies about mental health issues are dramas, and Lars and the Real Girl is an off-beat comedy which shows the progress one can make with the right support.

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Lars, played by Ryan Gossling, has a hard time developing attachments to people – given the history of abandonment in his life.

He falls in love with a blow-up doll, Bianca, and instead of branding him crazy and distancing themselves from him, his community embraces him.

Treatment is always key in living with mental illness, but Lars and the Real Girl shows just how necessary community support is, too.

Little Miss Sunshine

A dark comedy, Little Miss Sunshine tackles issues of depression and suicide in an unflinching and humorous way.

As a family embarks on a road trip to get their daughter into a beauty contest, the characters are given space to open up – particularly Frank (Steve Carrel) whose attempted suicide.

The movie is brilliant for its portrayal of mental illness as part of a person, not their whole, and each character grows as the movie reaches its heartwarming and reaffirming conclusion.

Black Swan

Black Swan: Natalie Portman plays Nina, a ballerina with an eating disorder (Image: Fox)

Honourable mention: Fight Club – though it does put disassociative identity disorder at the forefront, the portrayal and ramifications of the main character’s illness aren’t exactly realistic.

People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it.

All told, this list is just some of many movies which strive to accurately and compassionately depict what it’s like living with mental illness.

But there is still a huge shortage in movies which show people of colour in these roles, and there is still a long way to go.

For confidential support call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or visit a local Samaritans branch.

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