11 Films & TV Shows That Actually Depict Mental Illness Well

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The modern world places a great deal of importance on physical health, emotional health, and even financial health. When it comes to mental health? Not so much. Understanding the litany of mental illnesses that exist in our communities is just as valuable as understanding who's part of the Fortune 500. Centuries ago, mental illnesses were attributed to dark magic or malevolent spirits. Then again, our ancestors lacked half of the knowledge and resources that we have. Misconceptions regarding mental health and mental illness have no reason to persist.

So, how does popular entertainment figure into this discussion? It's no secret that representation matters. Seeing accurate, nuanced depictions of mental illness and disorders not only helps folks living with those illnesses, disorders, and conditions feel seen, but such portrayals of real-life experiences can be a way to educate, build support, and dispel harmful misinformation. Not to mention, it can help folks feel less ostracized. 

However, according to a study conducted by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative (USC AII) and published in May 2019, "Out of 4,598 speaking characters across the 100 top films of 2016, only 76 [or 1.7%] were depicted with a significant or persistent mental health condition." As the study points out, this is a stark contrast with our reality: roughly 20% of adults in the U.S. live with a mental health condition and/or mental illness. Without a doubt, art has the propensity to dismantle stigma and stereotypes surrounding mental illness — and it’s about time film and television harness that potential.

Editor's Note: This article contains mentions of various mental illnesses and mental health disorders as well as discussions of how some of these illnesses and disorders are portrayed, both accurately and poorly, in film and TV. Additionally, while the films and TV shows at the end of the article depict mental illness and mental health disorders accurately for the most part, it's important to note that these depictions may not resonate for some readers as everyone's experience with mental illness and mental health disorders is nuanced and specific.