Mental Illness and Movies
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Mental Illness and Movies

by:  Ryan (DeepBlueCalm)         Email Ryan


Movies capture the imagination.  They allow us to put our arms around abstract ideas and feelings, embrace them, and make them real.  They offer insight into the soul.
Despite the real intensity of mood swings bipolar people face, communicating these feelings to a non-bipolar person can be difficult.  Wonderful support groups and Web forums such as this one exist to promote sharing and understanding, yet it’s not possible to see the world through manic eyes without living it.  Someone who has never felt manic electricity flowing through their body or seen the complex patterns and connections that we do cannot truly understand it like we do.  Conversely, although depression is more common, someone who has never experienced it has a difficult time seeing  the world
through dark-colored glasses.
Movies can bridge that gap and make mental illness more accessible. They are not a substitute for real sensory experience, but they visually portray concepts that would otherwise be impossible to recreate. 



A  Beautiful Mind (2002), starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly as John and Alicia Nash expertly illustrates a world of psychosis through John  Nash’s eyes. It makes paranoid delusions and hallucinations real in a way  the audience can understand.  Speaking as someone who has experienced  severe delusions, they imitate the real thing.  Several other popular films have been made on other mental disorders, including:


As Good As It Gets, 1997 (Obsessive-compulsive disorder)  Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt



Good Will Hunting. 1997  (Oppositional Disorder) Matt Damon, Robin Williams


Shine,  1996 (Schizophrenia) Geoffrey Rush


Rain Man, 1988 (Autism)  Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,  1975 (Psychiatric Hospital) Jack Nicholson


 Sybil, 1976  (Multiple Personality Disorder) Sally Field, Joan Woodward

Bipolar disorder is conspicuously absent from the list.  Not since 1993 has a film clearly on the topic of bipolar disorder made it to the big screen. 

Can you name it?
That year, Mr. Jones, starring Richard Gere as a classic manic-depressive person and Lena Olin as his psychiatrist was made.  Though the film successfully illustrates mania from a third-person perspective, it makes the ethical error of introducing a romantic relationship between patient and psychiatrist.


This movie was universally disliked by critics.

Other films exist, but brush over the topic and fail to  portray the illness dramatically in a real and compelling way.  This means one thing to manic-depressive people out there -- we need to start writing!
Putting thoughts and ideas into words through writing can be a tremendously therapeutic tool.  Plus writing is inexpensive, self-initiated and flexible.  Traditional forms of writing therapy, including journal therapy, letter therapy and poetry therapy, allow people to explore their innermost thoughts and feelings.

Screen writing is similarly therapeutic.  The roles we play in our stories tell us about our lives.  Screen writing allows us to delve into our unconscious mind, free repressed feelings and discover our weaknesses.  Rewriting life stories can make over painful events and self-defeating behaviors in meaningful ways that give a sense purpose.  It permits us to move toward positive change and growth.
Hollywood clearly has room for the next great movie on bipolar disorder.  The question is, “Who will have the drive, courage and determination to produce the script?”


 Sources Used for Article:


Writing Therapy on Whole Health MD -,1525,745,00.htm


UCLA Creative Arts and Healing Lecture Series


Comments about this article?  Please write directly to Ryan at the email address provided at the top of the page.

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