Mental Illness Depicted in the Arts

Mental Illness  Depicted in the Arts

Popular culture has an important role to play in the public’s opinions and understanding of mental illness.  According to a source for entertainment news, “…having accurate portrayals of mental health in movies and TV shows can show people that they are not alone”.   Below are some examples of movies and TV shows that do a good job of reflecting reality:

What About Bob?  (1991) This film tells the story of Bob (Bill Murray) who has a massive list of phobias that interfere with his everyday life. Bob’s experience of experiencing such heavy anxiety that it impacts his daily life is relatable to anyone who has experienced something similar.

Girl, Interrupted   (1999) The autobiographical story of Susanna Kaysen’s experience of being hospitalized, and subsequently diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.  Borderline Personality Disorder is still poorly understood, and frequently stigmatized. The fact that this was discussed so openly and in such an honest way in 2000 is a credit to Kaysen. The movie captures the sobering reality of hospitalization for mental illness.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) A film adaptation of a best-selling young adult novel depicts the main character Charlie’s depression in a nuanced, genuine way. Charlie’s romantic relationship with Sam (played by Emma Watson) doesn’t magically save him, but is one part of a support system that helps him navigate his mental illness.

BoJack Horseman, (2014-2020) an animated show that Time magazine called “the most important animated series since The Simpsons” shows both mental health struggles and moral dilemmas. Helmed by has-been actor Bojack, who suffers from a slew of addictions, his struggles are exacerbated by his off-the-rails drinking and self-destructive behavior. BoJack’s behavior isn’t simply the result of his alcoholism, but of neglectful and abusive parenting; inherited trauma is also illustrated poignantly in this series.

This is Us (2016 – 2022)  A television series which follows the lives of three siblings and their parents across the decades from the 1980s to the present day. The portrayal of mental illness through the character of Randall has been met with widespread praise from critics and fans alike. The show highlights Randall’s ongoing struggle with panic attacks and anxiety, as well as themes of addiction and grief through other characters. 


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