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12 Movies About Mental Health for Your Summer

Depending on how you count, there are either twelve or thirteen weeks throughout June, July, and August. Partners in Prevention thought it might be fun to provide a list that would allow you to watch at least one excellent movie each week that would not only be enjoyable, but also serve to increase our understanding, compassion, and mental health awareness. Without further ado (but with a quick reminder to permit yourself to say “no thanks” if it is too much or triggering) here are twelve awesome mental health movies for your summer!

Inside Out: These movies are in no particular order but I put my favorite first. As a mental health professional, I believe this movie should be on the standard curriculum for any counselor-in-training. The cast members are personifications of emotions living in the mind of a preteen girl, helping her (and each other) navigate the challenges of internal and physical transitions as she moves. It is delightful and incredibly well researched in terms of emotional intelligence, brain function, and memory.

Patch Adams: Gosh, this one is wonderful too, albeit more intense than the cartoon above. It feels even more poignant to enjoy the incredible talents of Robin Williams, knowing that his own life later ended by suicide. He is hysterically funny, touching, and powerful in this role that pushes the envelope on the boundaries of medical care, compassion, and humor.

Silver Linings Playbook: When I worked as a counselor at a college, we got permission to play this movie as part of a mental health movie lineup. It is a great story about what it can look like to have bipolar disorder, both treated and left untreated. Plus, there’s a love story interwoven with a passion for American football. Sounds like summer to me!

A Beautiful Mind: This movie captured my affection years ago. I was touched to see something as uncommonly portrayed as schizophrenia be told in such a raw, and hopeful, way. Yes, you see the main character, his family, and his career struggle. But, you also see them find a way forward. Even better? It’s based on the story of a real person, Nobel Laureate, John Nash.

Matchstick Men: If you are into heist movies, this one may be intriguing. Nicholas Cage stars as a con artist trying to steal a lot of money. All the while, his character also has to manage difficulties with obsessive-compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, and panic attacks.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story: I haven’t seen this one but I am extremely intrigued by the storyline. It is a comedy set inside a psychiatric ward and it is one of the recommendations made by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health). Hospitals are supposed to be a place of healing, not fear, and it sounds like maybe this film gets it right!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower: This film is also on NAMI’s list. A coming-of-age movie, it attends to many common emotional and social difficulties of a teenager, while also weaving in the impact of a difficult, traumatic childhood. Mental illness is complicated, unique to each individual, and a mixed experience. This movie seeks to show all sides.

Ordinary People: We are throwing it back here to 1980, but this film makes many lists of top mental health movies. Admittedly, this one can be hard to watch. It is a lot of trauma, raw emotion, and painful family dynamics. As one of the earlier efforts to show therapy on camera, it has an interesting historical and clinical lens.

Good Will Hunting: With as much as I like this movie, maybe I should have mentioned it earlier but goodness—Good Will Hunting is so good! Aside from being the debut for team Affleck & Damon, it also sends a powerful message about poverty, adverse childhood experiences, intelligence, opportunity, friendship, and love. So many good one-liners too!

Still Alice: Like A Beautiful Mind, this movie is also about a college professor. It tugs at your heartstrings to watch Alice Howland (played by Julianne Moore) begin to struggle with her memory only to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia/Alzheimers at age 50. It is a story of family, shifting ability and identity, and trying to make the most of the time we have.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape: This film portrays a few mental health conditions we have not mentioned yet including disordered eating and autism. While we now identify autism as a spectrum disorder that can vary greatly in presentation, a young Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Arnie Grape earned him an Oscar nomination.

The Breakfast Club: I will unapologetically wrap up our list with another 1980s gem. The Breakfast Club is synonymous with the terms cult classic, teenage angst, and excellent hairdos. But, as a person who has spent her entire career invested in the well-being of young people, this movie shows what can lie behind all that acne and bravado. In short, teenagers are awesome.

Okay, while I am certain we offered you some wonderful viewing options for your summer, we also certainly missed a few. If you would like to explore the genre of mental health movies more on your own, here is a good list of resources.

10 of the Best Movies Ever Made About Mental Health (Columbia Wellness)

11 Best Films That Explore Mental Illness (Happier Human)

18 Films That Explore Mental Illness (Men’s Health, includes trailers)

June 21, 2022. By Anne Rulo, Author, Speaker, Therapist. FB/IG/Twitter @annemrulo 

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