11 Films & TV Shows That Actually Depict Mental Illness Well

Photo Courtesy: Summit Entertainment/Netflix

Every May, we acknowledge Mental Health Awareness Month, but this year, as we continue to collectively navigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it feels particularly important to discuss and prioritize mental health. While social distancing guidelines are loosening thanks to the vaccine rollout, many folks are still feeling isolated and uncertain. Over the last year, we've all developed new routines, new comfort zones, and, of course, new ways of managing our mental health. As a result, dipping our toes back into some-version-of-normal can feel both jarring and relieving all at once. 

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.