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December 4, 2020
by Tina Arnoldi

Mental Health Related Movies Receive Good Reviews

December 4, 2020 08:09 by Tina Arnoldi  [About the Author]

Photo by Third Serving on UnsplashIn a recent study, researchers surveyed 200 movies released between 1977 and 2019 with content about mental illness and found box office returns were higher than average. Those same movies received 15% of Oscar nominations during the time period. While the article still needs peer-review, the findings show that we, as a society, are doing a better job of talking about mental health. 

Jolene Caufield, MS with Healthy Howard, agrees with the implications of the findings, that mental health-related media is a byproduct of the public's awareness of the sensitive subject of psychological illnesses. “The cinematic media has a reputation for illustrating human behavior and the circumstances surrounding it,” said Caulfield. “It's only fitting that since the world is entering a destigmatizing era, the media will offer their own version to capture audience interest. This era and the landscape of our current cinema allows for more non-subjective portrayals with improved insights about the issue.”

Dr. Michael G. Wetter, PsyD, adds that movies that pertain to mental health issues are more popular and successful because it is a subject that most people can relate to in some way. He explains, “It taps into our own experience in dealing with emotions, conflict, and interpersonal relationships. Watching themes associated with mental health play out in a narrative may help us feel that resolution is possible; it provides the opportunity to have an emotional connection without anything required in return.”

Because they imply resolution and healing is possible, these movies also give a way to explore and gain a deeper understanding of other people and why they do what they do.  Jason Drake LCSW-S says “movies can provide a safe space to try to understand the struggles that we may experience ourselves and why we do what we do. For a person who is insecure, leaving a movie theater after watching someone portray and conquer insecurity gives hope. For someone battling depression, to see the inner experience shared so precisely by another, helps that person feel not so alone. We connect with the characters on the screen and project our struggles onto them. In times of difficulty, we get to feel what it feels like to overcome, if only for that moment. Movies may inspire hope which hope can lead to action.”

But writer and director Ryan Lambert has doubts about whether the mental health content is what makes these movies do so well. He wonders if they receive critical acclaim more so than other topics simply because of the subject itself, not any higher level of filmmaking ability. “These social issue movies are perceived as better because they are about important ideas,” said Lambert, “rather than being judged as better on their own terms. Media and award institutions like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences eat up these prestige pictures, showering them with praise based on their ideological stance instead of their aesthetic value.”

Joy Cheriel Brown, a filmmaker with Third Person Omniscient Productions, shares experience with psychosis when she was 18 years old. She doubted whether she would “herself” again or accomplish her screenwriting dreams. Brown said, “I vowed that if I ever figured it out, I would make a film about it to help other young people, which I did with my short film, “N.O.S.,” which sold to ShortsTV this year. For many people, mental illness is stigmatized and they don’t understand it. People either relate because they also have a mental illness, or people are curious about it and it fascinates them because it scares them that it could happen to anyone. The success of films about mental illness is not a fluke. Much of my work focuses on it because I’m in a unique position of actually living with schizoaffective disorder and I can advocate for those who live with mental illness, and educate those others who don’t understand it.”

Whether movies are truly top-notch or rated well because of their subject is up for debate, but as more people, like Brown, share their personal experiences, it keeps mental health at the forefront of people’s minds. Jay Shifman, host of the Choose Your Struggle podcast notes that we all want to feel accepted. Shifman says, “stigma still exists around things that are not only perfectly normal but relatively common  so people seek other ways to have their questions answered and feel that they’re not different or strange. Simply knowing something is okay enough to cover in a movie can decrease feelings of isolation.” 


About the Author

Tina Arnoldi

Tina Arnoldi, MA is a marketing consultant and freelance writer in Charleston SC. Learn more about her and connect at

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