5 Films About Mental Health To Stream Right Now, According to Experts

published May 17, 2021
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For too long, mental illness was used more as a punchline than as something worth exploring seriously and thoughtfully in the media. It was a boogeyman or a “gotcha” plot twist in movies, books, and television shows that too often created more harm and shame for so many people. 

Stigmas surrounding mental wellbeing have, thankfully, been receding as more honest discussions emerge culturally. While there’s still a gap in how mental health is represented in the media, there have been a number of excellent films showcasing the hard, dark, and sometimes downright unpleasant realities of grappling with our minds. Whether you’re the 1 in 5 in the U.S. with a diagnosed mental illness or seek to better understand the complexities of human experience, here are a handful of excellent films recommended by mental health professionals to stream right now.

It’s worth noting that when it comes to mental health, no single representation speaks for every experience. Though these films showcase an experience, it’s just that: an experience. Not every individual living with mental illness as seen in these films will find their experience mirrored exactly, nor will these movies capture the vast nuances that underlie them. Our mental health is as unique as we are. 

This list from experts scratches the surface of mental health movies you can stream and certainly, many favorites might not be included. Do note that the frank depictions of mental health may be triggering for some viewers.

Christina M. Winesberry, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, told Apartment Therapy that “Frankie & Alice” showcases “how an untreated mental health illness can impact every aspect of someone’s life” and that it “also reflects the powerful healing process that happens with self-exploration and professional treatment.” Inspired by a true story, the film follows Frankie (played by Halle Berry), a popular stripper at a Los Angeles club. A series of violent incidents unfold that leads Frankie to seek the help of a psychiatrist and discover she has Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). By working with the psychiatrist, Frankie begins to unpack the trauma that led to her DID and build strategies to make living healthfully with the disorder possible.

Available to stream on Amazon Prime and Hulu.

Psychiatrist and psychotherapist H. Eric Bender, M.D, says that Pixar’s “Inside Out” is “a great presentation of depressive symptoms in an adolescent, which do not always present as the typical sadness.” The film is a spectacular example of the ways mental health truly impacts our everyday lives, no matter what stage in life we’re at. It offers a reminder of the power emotions — even the unpleasant ones — have in making us who we are, as well as the importance emotions have in connecting us with other people.

Available to stream on Disney+ and Starz.

Nisha Gupta, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of West Georgia, says that this film “demonstrates how those who struggle with deep depression may paradoxically also carry deep resiliency in the face of tragedy and chaos.” What seems like a story of planetary collision is a thought-provoking meditation on where and how clinical depression impacts the capacity to fear change and disruption.

Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is about to get married, but she experiences serious bouts of depression (melancholy), often spurred by escalating anxiety due to her wedding and keeping her depression from her husband-to-be. Then, the day after her wedding, news breaks that there is a rogue planet Melancholia that might come crashing into Earth. The film offers a faithful representation of the lived experience of a depressive episode, and what it means to experience unanticipated collisions. 

Available to stream on Hulu and Amazon Prime

A Star is Born” (2018)

Jack (Bradley Cooper), a country music star, begins to fall for Ally (Lady Gaga), a singer he meets at a drag bar. As their relationship grows, the challenges of Jack’s addictions become more apparent, and he enters a rehabilitation program that helps him confront and understand the root causes of his addiction. Gupta explained that “in a time in history during which addictions have increased as a way to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, ‘A Star is Born’ offers a compassionate look at the suffering caused by alcoholism for people battling addiction as well as their loved ones.”

Much as he’s determined to improve, Jack’s battle with addiction — particularly the deep shame that is often at the core of it — leads him to die by suicide. While Jack’s fame may not be relatable to the average viewer, his addictions may follow a similar trajectory as others who battle alcoholism.

Available to stream on Amazon Prime and HBO Max

“At Eternity’s Gate” is an accurate portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh’s battle with what many psychologists believe to be bipolar disorder or manic depression, mentioned Gupta, which many artists have. The movie shows how he struggled with great psychological anguish at the very time he was also most prolific as an artist, and how in the midst of his psychological suffering, Van Gogh found purpose, solace, and joy in his art. It also raises the question of whether or not his death was by suicide, imploring viewers to reconsider if and how it’s appropriate to interpret a person’s life solely through the lens of their mental health.

Available to stream on Netflix.  

If you’re having thoughts of suicide or of hurting yourself in any way, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also access a crisis counselor through the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or by texting TalkWithUs to 66746.