There’s no shortage of listicles across the worldwide web on the best movies about mental health. But when you actually suffer from a mental health condition, it’s easy to see just how few genuinely good films there are about the subject, thanks to the ridiculously enduring stigma that still lingers in everyday life. Which is why most of these lists just end up consisting of the same few movies. And sometimes you need something to consume that, to paraphrase one of the films on this list, will help your outsides match your insides. So curl up with your best blanket, warm drink, and candle for a good cathartic release with one of these movies.
It always surprises me that this movie is pretty much always left out of films about mental health, because it’s helps me a lot every time I watch it. Although so much stigma still exists around it, much like all mental health conditions, alcoholism is in fact considered a mental illness. 28 Days centers on Gwen (Sandra Bullock), an impulsive alcoholic and prescription painkiller addict whose drunken performance at her sister’s (Elizabeth Perkins) wedding lands her in court-ordered rehab for the standard 28 days. There, she meets a colorful cast of characters each dealing with their own struggles. And while getting sober might be somewhat different from other mental illnesses like anxiety disorders, there are certain principles from 28 Days that apply to everyone in a rut. So confront me if I don’t ask for help.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Another film that doesn’t get nearly as much appreciation as it should, probably because critics wrote it off as being too quirky to follow. Maybe it was because I was already a fan of the book on which Where’d You Go, Bernadette is based, but you don’t have to be in order to relate to the overarching theme that, sometimes, the simple everyday banalities of life are harder for some than they are for others. Cate Blanchett gives a thoughtful and underrated performance as once-architect and lost creative Bernadette Fox, along with great supporting performances from Emma Nelson and Billy Crudup. (Even though Elgie sucks as a husband.)
It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Somehow, I only recently discovered that, upon rewatching It’s Kind of a Funny Story for the first time in a few years, that the author who wrote the source material and based the narrative off of his own personal experiences, Ned Vizzini, tragically died by suicide in 2013. But it doesn’t taint the validity of the film, even though it might scream early 2010s Tumblr vibes which is in itself a trigger. But it’s comical and touching in all the right ways, especially for teenagers.
Okay, this is another underrated offering that should resonate more with the mid-twenties and up age groups. Or honestly even the late teens and early twenties, at this point, as the absurdity of being a “successful” adult gets more and more potent with each passing year. Which is why it’s all the more interesting that Young Adult’s protagonist, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), is 37 and still healing wounds from high school. I think it just goes to show that no one is exempt from the weight of adulthood at a certain point, and we all learn to cope with it in different ways. But things like depression and alcoholism can make everything harder.
To the Bone
While To the Bone follows 20-year-old Ellen’s (Lily Collins) battle with anorexia nervosa, you don’t have to be suffering from an eating disorder in order for the story to resonate. Rather, the film speaks to an experience shared by many, which is trauma. Sometimes it can be big and sometimes it can be small, but when it goes untreated, unnoticed, or unmentioned for too long, sometimes it can have devastating effects.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Listen, I was 15 when this movie came out so I was in high school when both it and the book were extremely popular (even though the book was first published in 1999) so I lived through the age of Tumblr and Instagram pages dedicated to teen angst that plastered quotes from this book and this movie all over the place. I deserve a medal, goddammit! I was also a 15-year-old misunderstood, closeted introvert when this movie came out, so it was basically like The Breakfast Club for the 2010s. I was that bitch who didn’t like admitting to liking popular things, so I watched and rewatched The Perks of Being a Wallflower in private over and over again as it spoke to my misunderstood, closeted, introverted soul. Interestingly enough, it was only when I went on anxiety medication for the first time when I was 24 did I return to it and realize how much of a subconscious guiding light it was for me and millions of other teens. So I stand by it and that’s that on that.
The Secret Garden
You might be thinking, “The Secret Garden? The children’s book? What does that have to do with mental health?” Or you might be thinking, “Ah yes, of course, The Secret Garden.” It’s one of those stories of which you only realize its true value once you’ve grown up. It’s about grief, it’s about depression, it’s about learning to express your feelings in a healthy and cathartic way. I’ve only seen the 1993 film version a handful of times over the course of my life, but every time I’ve watched it as an adult, it’s been so healing. Especially when you watch it in the spring. It will scratch that unexplainable itch in your brain in just the right spot.
Nothing I ever write will ever be able to adequately describe how much Girl, Interrupted means to me. There’s no way for me to try to explain it to someone who doesn’t also feel the same way about it. But suffice to say that, out of all the movies on this list, it’s helped me the most in terms of releasing negative emotions, understanding myself and others, and helping me through that inexplicably difficult period between the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. It’s about putting people and feelings in their places and learning how to set boundaries for everyone and everything around you. “Was I ever really ‘crazy’? Maybe. Or maybe life is.” Maybe two things can be the same at once, and maybe you can still exist through all of it.