Top 5 favorite films about mental illness

Some of my favorite movies feature a main character with a mental illness. No, not the kind of movies where the "crazy" person is shunned or turns out to be a serial killer or they're the butt of jokes throughout the movie. But movies that genuinely show what it's like to live with a mental illness. Movies that help those of us with depression, anxiety, or another disorder feel less alone and like someone else gets it.  

Below are some of my favorite films about mental illness. Comment below or email me at with your favorites. 

Words on Bathroom Walls

I had previously read the book by author Julia Walton that inspired this film adaptation (I am a big proponent of ALWAYS READING THE BOOK). This was the first movie my boyfriend and I saw after movie theaters re-opened in Michigan during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also one of our favorite movies we've watched together in our 4+ year relationship. 

The film follows Adam, played by Charlie Plummer (my favorite up-and-coming young actor), who is diagnosed with schizophrenia in high school. For him, it starts with hearing voices, and it grows to seeing things that aren't there — such as an angry mob boss, a hippy girl who dances around, a half-naked testosterone-driven bro, and a sinister deep-voiced black cloud.

In the film, the main character says, "When you are a cancer kid, people can’t wait to flock to your aid. They are so eager to grant you any wish before you die. But when you have schizophrenia, people can’t wait to make you someone else's problem. That's why we end up on the streets screaming at nothing, waiting to die. No one wants to grant our wishes."

This film shows so much compassion and raises awareness of something so important — that we need to STOP being scared of people with schizophrenia. And, for people with schizophrenia, this powerful film shows that you can — and deserve —to find love and live full, successful lives.

Where to watch: Free on Amazon Prime

It's Kind of a Funny Story 

A couple years ago, I got to meet the star of "It's Kind of a Funny Story" — Keir Gilchrist. I interviewed him for an article and couldn't help but fan girl a little bit to tell him that this was one of my all-time favorite films. (Bucket list goal ✓)

"It's Kind of a Funny Story" is about how a boy who is "earnest and open to the world," as Director Ryan Fleck describes him, can still struggle with depression and loneliness. It's a story that's equal parts sad, happy, funny and hopeful.

Keir's character Craig checks himself into a psychiatric ward after having all-consuming thoughts of suicide. One of my favorite things about this movie is that nothing particularly devastating happened to him. Oftentimes, depression is portrayed in movies as the result of a tragedy. I think this portrayal can be detrimental to people with depression because it makes them feel like, "I shouldn't feel like this! My life isn't that bad! I'm being ungrateful! What's wrong with me!" (I know because that's how I felt when I struggled with depression). But depression is a MENTAL ILLNESS. It's a chemical imbalance in the brain. Which means it's no one's fault, and it can happen to anyone at anytime. 

Movie reviewer Chloe Catchpole wrote on Den of Geek, "We began with a boy so desperate to take his own life and by the end we see a teenager who is beginning to see a sun-ray through the clouds. The fact Craig takes it upon himself to seek medical care is such a positive message especially for a character in crisis mode."

"The more mental health is given a sense of normalcy the easier it is for everyone young and old alike. Films like this really, really help."

Where to watch: Available to rent on Amazon Prime

Silver Linings Playbook

This film follows former teacher Pat (Bradley Cooper), who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and moves back in with his parents after a stint in a mental institution. He meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) at a dinner party where they bond over the medications they’ve taken for their respective mental illnesses (one of my all-time favorite scenes in any movie). Instead of hiding their bipolar and depression diagnoses, the characters talk about it, right off the bat, and even joke about them. 

This film taught me an important lesson — that mental illness shouldn't be something you're ashamed of. Instead, it's something we should be able to talk about and even laugh about. I credit this film, which received eight nominations at the Academy Awards in 2013, with starting a larger conversation around mental health and helping reduce the stigma within the last decade.

Director David O. Russell said in an interview with USA Today, "All the characters are grappling with something. I wanted to show that we're all in this together. ... I think storytelling does what medicine can't do, which is to reach out to people and help them feel human, to look at their own prejudices and to branch out."

Where to watch: Netflix

To Write Love On Her Arms

The organization To Write Love On Her Arms was one of my inspirations for starting this blog a decade ago. So, of course, the movie based on the true story of how this movement began is very near and dear to my heart.

It all started with Renee Yohe (played by Kat Dennings), who struggled with addiction, depression, self-injury, and attempted suicide. When she was 19, she tried to get into a rehab program but was denied for being too at-risk and asked to come back in five days after detoxing on her own. "To Write Love On Her Arms" is the story of how two guys, David McKenna (Rupert Friend) and Jamie Tworkowski (Chad Michael Murray) took Renee in, helped her detox, and ultimately gave her the future she so desperately needed.

In an interview about the film, Jamie, who started the now global nonprofit, said, "In my mind, it’s a story about broken people loving broken people. It’s friends trying to figure out how to be friends while navigating their own pain. Our hope is that the film inspires honest conversations, that it leads to people realizing they’re not alone and that it’s okay to ask for help."

Where to watch: Available to rent on Amazon Prime

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is the coming-of-age story to rule over all other coming-of-age stories. As a self-proclaimed high school wallflower myself, I wish I would've had this film and read the book it was based on when I was a teen. My high school years were some of the most difficult years of my life, and this movie so accurately shows how both hard and beautiful adolescence can be when you are discovering who you are and who you want to be while trying to find a place where you belong and, for some of us, also battling a mental illness.

While the film never specifically comes out and diagnoses the main character Charlie (Logan Lerman), he does show symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression. In the film, Charlie is starting a new chapter of his life — the beginning of high school — on his own after his best friend loses his life to suicide. Charlie is introverted, contemplative and smart, and he finds it difficult to fit in with his classmates. But then he meets seniors Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), who embrace Charlie and bring them into their group of "misfit toys," changing his life forever.

Author Stephen Chbosky said in an interview with the Guardian, "Depression is invisible. It’s an invisible scar and so many people who suffer from it, they are told for most of their lives: ‘C’mon, snap out of it. What’s wrong? Just get it together.’"

"(But) there is nothing wrong with them. They just have an illness that they need to treat, just like anyone would treat allergies or a cold. ... The more they can reach out for support and guidance, the faster they will find relief from these things that ail them."

Where to watch: Showtime or available to rent on Amazon Prime

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