Mental Health in Film and TV

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: May 11, 2022 (Last updated: December 14, 2023)
Normal People review - an excellent adaptation makes for a wonderful small-screen love story

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week from the 9th to the 15th of May, so we’re going to take a look at how mental health conditions are portrayed on camera and how this can be beneficial, especially to young people, who struggle with their mental health. 

A survey from 2021 found that showing mental health conditions on TV and in films can help to break down stigma and encourage teenagers with concerns to seek support. According to the study conducted by YouGov, 48% claimed that viewing positive images of mental health helps them understand the difficulties, can serve as a stepping stone for seeking treatment, and that a scene in a film or TV show has motivated them to talk to their friends or family about mental health.

Let’s take a look at some well-known films and TV shows which deal with mental health:

What movies deal with mental health?

Silver Linings Playbook 2012

You know why Silver Linings Playbook has to be on this list if you’ve watched it. The entire film seeks to reinvent what it means to have a mental condition by repeatedly invoking the derogatory epithet “crazy.” The educated and seemingly “regular” main characters, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) and Pat (Bradley Cooper), who suffer from an undisclosed mental illness and bipolar disorder, respectively, are what keep the movie compelling.

Black Swan 2010

Black Swan, a dark psychological thriller, is a captivating depiction of a damaged and wounded mindset. Because of the great strain she encounters as a professional dancer, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) has a plethora of issues. Despite her best efforts, she succumbs to the strain, scratching her back to resemble the swan she depicts, depriving herself of food to stay slender, and stabbing herself in the stomach as part of the scene to kill the White Swan. As we follow Nina’s collapse, we see how striving for perfection can impair a person’s mental health.

The Breakfast Club 1985

When a group of seemingly unrelated high school students is sentenced to detention on a Saturday afternoon, archetypes emerge immediately: rebel, nerd, sportsman, popular girl, and oddball. But we soon discover that each of them is under some kind of stress that is affecting their mental health: Andrew (Emilio Estevez) is driven to intimidate others by his father’s severe emotional abuse. John (Judd Nelson) comes from an abusive household, Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) attempted suicide.  Many people may connect to the gulf between those who appear to be “perfectly fine” and those on the verge of breakdown in this coming of age classic.

Mental Health in TV shows

Normal People

Normal People drew a lot of attention when it premiered in the summer of 2020, and it began the careers of Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones in Hollywood. This critically praised series tackles a variety of issues, including grief, loneliness, and mental health.

The show has attracted a lot of praise for portraying men’s mental health concerns realistically, as Connell (Paul Mescal) struggles with depression.

After Life

This dark comedy-drama has received accolades for bringing loss and depression to the forefront. The programme, which was created by Ricky Gervais and stars him, follows journalist Tony Johnson, whose life is turned upside down when his wife falls victim to cancer.

If you haven’t already, this is one of Netflix’s most popular and must-see shows.

This Is Us

This Is Us is a drama television series starring Justin Hartley, Chrissy Metz, and Sterling K. Brown as siblings Kevin, Kate, and Randall Pearson, and Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore as their parents Jack and Rebecca Pearson.

The depiction of mental illness through Randall’s character has received tremendous admiration from audiences and critics. Through other characters, the show explores Randall’s continual struggle with panic attacks and anxiety, as well as issues of addiction and bereavement.

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