The Top 10 Movies about Mental Illness
By Brendan McLean, NAMI Communications Coordinator
There will always be disagreements and discrepancies among Top 10 lists, no matter what the topic. Everybody has an opinion. When we asked our NAMI Facebook page fans what movies made the biggest impact on them when it came to films that put mental illness in the spotlight, we received a wide array of answers. Take a look:
10. Canvas (2006)
Canvas is one of only a few movies able to encapsulate the emotional trials that a family living with mental illness faces. Chris Marino (Devon Gearhart) is a 10-year-old boy growing up in a small, seaside community in Florida. Chris's father John (Joe Pantoliano) is a construction worker who is struggling to hold the family together under difficult circumstances: his wife and Chris' mother, Mary (Marcia Gay Harden), has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and while they've been pursuing a variety of treatment options, Mary's condition continues to slowly deteriorate as she hears phantom sounds, has hallucinations and becomes increasingly paranoid.
9. Shutter Island (2010)
The year is 1954 and World War II veteran and current federal marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) set off to Shutter Island, a water-bound mental hospital created to provide a place for those with a history of committing criminal acts and mental illness. Daniels and his partner have been asked to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients. However, as Teddy spends more time on the island, more questions arise than answers. As the happenings on the island become more bizarre, Daniel’s handle on reality begins to unravel. While the ending does appear to blinside you on first viewing, it allows for an interesting discussion on the treatment of mental illness
8. Benny & Joon (1993)
Benny & Joon is a rather fantastical story about car-mechanic Benny (Aidan Quinn) who struggles to take care of sister, Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson), who lives with mental illness. Midway through the film, we are introduced to the true star, and leading quirky character of the film, Sam (Johnny Depp). After losing a bet, Benny is forced to now house Sam along with his sister. Sam’s Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin routines keep him as far from reality as Joon often appears to be. Finding entertainment and enjoyment in the simple, yet oddball things in life, Sam develops a connection with Joon. While Depp’s performance does seem magical, especially as he brings Keaton’s mannerisms to life, the topic of Joon’s mental illness is not thoroughly discussed. The audience is merely greeted with and left with the notion that Joon lives with a mental illness. As a consequence, the movie is left with a feeling of a degree of insignificance. But regardless, Sam’s eccentric nature and the influence he has on Joon make this movie an incredibly fun watch, with a few sentimental moments as well.
7. The Hours (2002)
Depicting the story of three women in three separate generations, The Hours tells the struggles that each faces in their own time. The first of the three women is famous author Virginia Wolff (Nicole Kiddman) who wrote Mrs. Dalloway, the common thread that ties all three women together. Wolff is in the process of writing the novel; a troubled young mother (Julianne Moore) in 1951 is reading the novel and a woman (Meryl Streep) in 2001 is acting like the character Mrs. Dalloway from the book. The theme of mental illness is paramount throughout the film, as each of the three women is, to some degree, living with depression and thoughts of suicide. The remarkable acting, especially by Kiddman, helps give life to every single moment and make the powerful themes reverberate even more.
6. The Soloist (2009)
Depicting the true-life story of Nathanial Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a former cello virtuoso, and Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.), a journalist in Los Angeles, The Soloist portrays the working relationship and friendship formed between the two. As a young man, Ayers was a student at the prestigious Jullliard. But in his third year he experienced a mental breakdown and was subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia. After living with his sister for a few years in Cleveland, his mother died, and he set out to Los Angeles where his father supposedly lived. Unable to locate him, Ayers becomes homeless. This is where Lopez meets him. Unable to understand how such a brilliant musician can be living on the streets and not performing in a symphony hall, Lopez sets out on a mission to help Ayers. And as with all similar movies, as Lopez begins to learn about Ayers, he begins to discover himself as well. The Soloist touches on the tough but important subject of how many living with mental illness can become homeless when they do not continue to receive help.
5. Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Set in 1967, Girl, Interrupted follows the 18-year-old Susanna (Winona Ryder) after she is sent to psychiatric institution for a half-serious suicide attempt where she attempts to cure a headache by taking 50 aspirin with a bottle of vodka. Unlike many of her fellow classmates, Susanna does not have any future plans to go to college after she graduates high school. Apart from a contrived climax, the film largely is well-constructed and thought-out, although it does not have the metaphorical or powerful symbolism that a film like this, could and should have. Ryder’s performance as a neurotic young-female is what helps this film from stereotypical movie that delves into the topic of institutionalization in a mental hospital. However, while Girl, Interrupted does a good job portraying the topic of mental illness, there is nothing particularly novel or ground-breaking in the film’s execution that hasn’t been addressed in previous films.
4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest may be the most famous of all films depicting a mental institution and mental illness. R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is sent to a mental institution for an evaluation because of a crime he committed. Realizing that the individuals in the institution become more focused on becoming functional in the outside world, MucMurphy establishes himself as the leader in rebellious against the oppressive Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). While some view some of the actions and depictions of the characters as stigmatizing, for others Cuckoo’s Nest ultimately provides well-developed character descriptions that allows for them to be seen as any person, with or without mental illness; people with feelings, thoughts, goals and unique qualities. Furthermore, the portrayal of the institution may not be a positive example of how those living with mental illness should be cared for, many believe it does advocate that it should be the way. Based on a book of the same name by Ken Kesey from 1962, Cuckoo’s Nest describes an institution as many appeared in that era. The ending of the film, both metaphorically and literally ultimately reveals the devastation that this method of care for those living with mental illness has.
3. Ordinary People (1980)
Ordinary People tells the story of family whose underlying problems and struggles come to forefront in the aftermath of the death of one of their sons. Their other son who was present at the scene of his brother’s death cannot shake the grief and pain of situation and attempts suicide. As their son begins psychiatric treatment, the emotional journey in the family only begins. Each family member experiencing various aspects of the difficult nature of trying to care for someone you love with mental illness. In particular, Conrad (Timonthy Hutton), the son, is seen as an outcast at school because of his mental illness and suicide attempt. The struggle between the father (Donald Sutherland) and his wife (Mary Tyler Moore) and the ability to each family member to love one another creates a turbulent scene in the all too stereotypically matter-of-fact and easy suburban life.
2. The Fisher King (1991)
Perhaps the most individual film on the list The Fisher King tells the story of shock radio DJ Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges). One fan in particular takes Jack’s rants about humanity to heart and goes on horrible rampage, murdering innocent patrons at a restaurant. Horrified by what he caused, Jack sinks into a three-year depression. Hitting rock bottom, Jack attempts to commit suicide. To his rescue comes a crazed but witty homeless man named Parry (Robin Williams), who tells Jack he's destined for great things—all he has to do is find the Holy Grail (conveniently located in midtown Manhattan) and save Parry's soul. As the story unfolds, we learn that Parry is suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses, and importantly the event that helped caused them, that will tie him and Jack together.
1. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Telling the story of John Forbes Nash, Jr. (Russell Crowe), a brilliant mathematician, A Beautiful Mind, captures the difficult life that an individual first experiencing schizophrenia faces. Beginning in the 1950s, A Beautiful Mind follows the path of Nash from a promising career, being recruited by the CIA to help in code-breaking activities, to the powerful delusions that he begins to experience and change his life forever. Although the film does romanticize mental illness, it does reveal the ambiguous nature of mental illness; it can affect anyone regardless of intelligence, prominence or any other personal trait.
Celebrity Mental Illness: Confronting the Social Stereotypes
By Katrina Gay
NAMI Director of Communications
When actress Catherine Zeta-Jones revealed that she lives with bipolar II disorder and received mental health treatment for her illness, the Academy Award-winner suddenly became the focus and discussion of many Americans. As a result, many people began asking questions about mental illness and bipolar disorder specifically.
On NAMI's Facebook page, in discussion groups and through the media, we found ourselves participating in a larger discussion about what it means when a public figure is suddenly in the mental health spotlight.
By being honest and transparent about getting help, Zeta-Jones makes us confront the social stereotypes we consciously, or subconsciously, carry about mental illness and individuals. It also helps enlighten America's understanding of an illness that is prevalent and often so misunderstood.
NAMI received several calls from the media seeking a response. What did we think about this news? Did we see this as an opportunity? Did we have any concerns? The response to this was an easy one. True to the essence of NAMI as both an organization and a movement is the story of each individual and each family. Through the sharing of our stories, we are able to change the hearts and minds of the American public, to offer help and hope to those in need. Whenever anyone-a neighbor, co-worker or a celebrity-shares his or her experience and models self-care, mental illness becomes like any other human condition. Some are invited to challenge their previous misconceptions, others are encouraged to seek help for their own conditions and families are encouraged to heal what, for some, are hidden wounds of shame that may have been unfairly imposed upon them by an community that is unable to understand.
The latest research suggests that less than one-half of people living with bipolar disorder receive mental health treatment. By graciously sharing her openness about taking care of herself, Zeta-Jones serves as an example for others and inspires many to step out of the shadows, confronting their own barriers to treatment and seeking both help and understanding.
2011 NAMI Convention - Chicago, IL
2010 NAMI National Convention NAMI members and supporters enjoyed a spectacular week in Washington, D.C. at the NAMI convention in late June. We made hundreds of visits to members of the House and Senate to explain the impact of mental illness on individuals and families. We heard from Dr. Tom Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, and two leading researchers about a new study that may alter the course of schizophrenia. We elected new members to the NAMI Board of Directors and were entertained by Irish singer Susan McKeown and her band at our annual banquet.
Attendees shared in the wisdom of dozens of the country’s leading thinkers, policymakers and grassroots advocates as we learned about new ideas to expand services, improve treatment and better the lives of people affected by mental illness. Conventioneers had the opportunity to meet exhibitors from organizations and companies offering products and services of interest to NAMI members. They also took full advantage of the information and activities offered by the NAMI Hearts & Minds Wellness Center.
Whether or not you attended this year’s convention, mark your calendar and start making your plans for next year’s convention, which will take place July 6–9, 2011, in Chicago. Keep checking this website where we’ll post further details as soon as they become available.
See you in Chicago next July!
BP Magazine - Mending Relationships
If only life came with a reset button. One push and voilà: Relationships unraveled by the behaviors of bipolar disorder would knit themselves back together.
Of course, it's not that easy to mend what's broken-but it's not impossible, either. What bipolar symptoms put asunder, effort and understanding may repair.
Not all rifts can be mended, and sometimes letting go of the relationship is the best way to move forward. Yet healing can happen through a commitment to self-care on one side, education and acceptance on the other, and lots of communication to work through hurt, anger and fear.
When Barbara B., 53, and her husband, Gary, 57, separated after nearly 15 years of marriage, she was pretty sure the split would be permanent. Gary's escalating bursts of rage, coupled with a growing emotional distance felt by both partners, had eroded the El Cerrito, California couple's bond to a thread.
Both mania and depression often leave those with bipolar "unable to interact with the people around them," explains Mamdouh El-Adl, MD, MRCPsych, an assistant professor in the Psychiatry Department at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, and a clinician and researcher at the Providence Care Mood Disorder Research and Treatment Service.
"They don't seem interested in maintaining the relationship, and this can be misperceived by other people," he says.
Before Gary got his diagnosis of rapid-cycling bipolar I, Barbara interpreted his out-of-touch reactions to her problems as impatience and lack of sympathy, especially after her father died in 2003. When Barbara had to store boxes of her father's belongings in the garage, for example, Gary complained there was no room for his car.
That sense of disconnection deepened in the months that followed, just as the angry tirades Gary directed at Barbara were getting more frequent and more extreme. Looking back, Gary sees a combination of causes: extreme stress at work; disturbed rest from untreated sleep apnea; and antidepressants he was taking for unipolar depression, diagnosed a few years earlier. Getting an accurate diagnosis, which happened shortly after they separated in 2004, opened the door for real improvement-and for the couple's reconciliation two years later.
As someone with a mood disorder herself-she was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in her 20s-and with a background in psychology through her work as a medical writer, Barbara didn't see the bipolar diagnosis itself as a deal-breaker. The key for her was whether Gary was getting treated for the illness.
"I was really impressed with how Gary made a lot of effort to get better," she recalls. "He was really good about medication. If any symptoms cropped up, like depression, he would talk to his psychiatrist about it. He became much more emotionally engaged once he was treated."…
Click here to read an extended excerpt from the article, "Mending Relationships"