Mental Illness and Addiction in Movies


I always feel better when I find someone who understands.  

Understands what being bipolar means, understands what being an alcoholic means.  I’m not constantly depressed anymore, like I was a few weeks ago.  So I don’t necessarily need a lot of comfort and reassurance right now.  When I’m low, though, I need tons.

One thing I do when I’m really down and can’t bring myself to talk to anyone is listen to music that seems to understand me.  What helps me more is watching movies that seem to understand.  Even if what I’m watching is full of fictional characters, watching movies that portray bipolar disorder, depression, or alcoholism really helps me feel less alone and more “normal.”

There are countless movies that have been made that portray an array of mental illnesses and addictions.  I’ll just go into the ones that I most relate to, the ones I can watch over and over and they always have the same impact.

Prozac Nation is based upon the best-selling memoir by Elizabeth Wurtzel, and it depicts her struggle with clinical depression.  I read the book first, and related to it, and this was before I’d been diagnosed as bipolar.  By the time I saw the movie, I could completely identify with it.  Not everyone will be a fan of the book (or the movie), in part because sometimes it drags on and maybe becomes a bit tedious.  But that’s how depression is.  I like that it mirrors the disorder.

Girl, Interrupted  is another movie based upon a memoir, by Susanna Kaysen.  I also read this memoir before seeing the movie, and I love both.  In this movie, the main character has actually been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.  I can still relate.  Many of the symptoms of bipolar disorder overlap with symptoms of borderline traits.  I definitely exhibit some borderline traits, which is why I think I can relate to this movie so much.  In the film, Susanna (Winona Ryder) is sent to a mental institution where she learns a lot about herself and others.  If for nothing else, watch this for Angelina Jolie, who is luminous as a sociopath.

My new favorite movie is Silver Linings Playbook.  From the first preview I saw, I knew I’d love it.  This movie centers around a male character (Bradley Cooper) with bipolar disorder and a female character (Jennifer Lawrence) with, I’m guessing, undiagnosed borderline personality disorder.  It’s the first movie I’ve seen in a long time that draws awareness to mental illness, and specifically bipolar disorder.  The characters are real.  The dialogue is believable.  When I first saw it, it wasn’t necessarily the ending I expected, but now I like it.  I can relate to this movie in various ways.  Fantastic.

28 Days is my favorite movie about alcoholism.  Sandra Bullock plays a character who is forced into rehab due to her drinking.  I see a lot of myself in this.  The stories aren’t completely the same, but the feelings, emotions – those are all there.  I watched this a few times right after I quit drinking.  It was like going to an AA meeting when there wasn’t one to go to.  I just felt less alone, and felt like I could do this.  It’s just a great movie.

Come Early Morning is another movie about alcoholism, and one that I could relate to.  It’s a fairly simple movie with a fairly simple storyline, but it is realistic.  The emotions expressed by the characters (played by Ashley Judd and Laura Prepon) feel genuine, and when it comes to addiction, that’s what really matters.  I just love any movie in which the characters undergo a transformation for the better.

An absolutely wonderful movie about alcoholism, starring Denzel Washington, is Flight.  I wasn’t sure what to think going into this, but I’m so glad I did.  I couldn’t relate to everything in this movie, as the storyline centers around an alcoholic pilot who crashes his plane, but I could definitely identify with parts of it.  It’s a must-see for any alcoholic.

This is an abridged list of movies, as I’ve always been interested in psychology and mental illness - and now addiction.  There are so many more educational and entertaining movies about mental illness and addiction out there if you’re interested in seeing them.  Just Google.  See if you can relate to any or if any remind you of someone you love.