5 Movies about mental illness you probably haven’t seen

Mental illness has been a taboo subject for far too long. It shouldn’t be something that makes you feel uncomfortable to talk about, which is why portraying mental health issues in cinema is so important! Movies have such a unique power to reach people and normalize what many don’t dare to talk about. It saddens me that brilliant movies with important messages often go unnoticed, which is why I’ve created this list of movies related to mental health that you might have missed. #stopthestigma

There are many amazing movies out there depicting mental illness, A Beautiful Mind, Girl Interrupted, Melancholia and Shutter Island to just name a few. I’ll make a list of those too, promise. However, like often when I find a total movie gem, I go to IMDB to leave my rating and often find to my horror that the vote count is horrendously low – meaning the movie has gone under the radar. So let me help you out! Here are 5 movies portraying unique stories of mental health issues.

Control (2007)

Control 2007 mental health struggle

Maybe I’m bias considering Joy Division is one of my all-time favourite bands, but while I loved their music I never paid much attention to the actual lyrics. Let’s just say, after watching Control and learning more about Ian Curtis, my love for his music has only increased.

A movie following real life lead singer Ian Curtis who hung himself on the 18th of May 1980. Anton Corbijn, known as a photographer, music video director and filmmaker, took it upon himself to tell Ian’s story, and he certainly did it well. Corbijn reveals the story of how Ian Curtis desperately wanted to break out of his lifeless hometown Manchester, and the events that lead up to his suicide in 1980.

Control is filmed in black and white, giving a greater insight and focus on the emotion turmoil within the lead singer, a man whose melancholia and depression seems to overshadow all other emotions. Despite many attempts to find meaning and belonging, Ian’s life remains nuanced by grey, which is emphasized both through the cinematography and the excellent acting of Sam Riley. A marriage becomes a trap, fatherhood becomes a burden. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” becomes quite literal.

When routine bites hard
And ambitions are low
And resentment rides high
But emotions won’t grow

Take Shelter (2011)

Take Shelter schizophrenia mental illness

It always amazes me when a director can release something incredible right off the bat, which was the case with Jeff Nichols. He made his director debut with the wonderful (but sadly unknown) masterpiece Shotgun Stories. 4 years later he followed up with yet another gem, Take Shelter. He continues to create movies that wow me. Jeff Nichols is definitely a director to keep track of! 

Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) lives in a small town in Ohio together with his wife Samantha and their 6-year-old deaf daughter Hannah. Curtis starts having terrifying apocalyptic nightmares, along with visual and auditory hallucinations, which he hides from his family. Rather than confiding in his wife, Curtis channels his anxiety by compulsively building a storm shelter in their backyard. His odd behaviour soon confuse his friends and family, creating tension in his relationships. But it’s a price Curtis is prepared to pay, as he’s convinced something terrible will happen and he needs to protect his family.

An incredible movie that keeps you questioning. You’re thrown into Curtis’ unstable world of panic and paranoia, while also examining his soundness. Is this a man who needs help and is incredibly mentally unstable, or can he actually see the future?

Bug (2006)

Bug paranoia and mental illness

Director William Friedkin is no stranger to creating amazing movies, with an incredible director’s resume containing movies like 12 Angry Men, The Exorcist and my personal favourite, Killer Joe. Bug is an unusual movie that sadly didn’t gain much traction when released in 2006. This underappreciated masterpiece might be my absolute all-time favourite movie depicting mental illness.

The movie centers on Agnes, who lives in a world that doesn’t bring much joy. She rents a room at a run-down motel on the outskirts of a desert town. She’s lost her son and her ex husband is in jail. It’s basically as white trash as can be. When Agnes is introduced to Peter, her life changes and they begin an affair. Peter is a shy man, so unobtrusive he almost melts into the walls, but he bears a secret. After revealing that the government deliberately infected him with an insect, an ominous rumble of paranoia sets in. Paranoia found a friend and the couple race each other into madness.

Bug is not a movie about crawling creepy insects brought to life with advanced CGI. Nevertheless, you’ll feel the bugs crawling under your skin as you’re sucked into a world of absolute panic. It’s a masterful portrayal of how one’s reality, no matter how outrageous, can become another’s.

The Voices (2014)

The Voices 2014

Despite starring Ryan Reynolds, The Voices didn’t make much of a boom when released in 2014. This movie went under most people’s radar, and opinions differed greatly from those who actually watched it. But if you’re like me and love gore, horror and some excellent grim humor – I bet you’ll love it.

Jerry is a seemingly normal, friendly, somewhat shy guy who works a normal nine-to-five job at a factory. But what no one knows except Jerry’s psychiatrist is that he has a dark past. Jerry’s freedom is contingent on him taking his medicines, which he doesn’t. With medicines his world turns grey and somber, but without them he gets to live in a bright and colorful world where he can even communicate with his pets. The movie takes a sinister turn when Jerry “accidently” kills his college (and crush) Fiona. It doesn’t get much better after that, with an evil cat and somewhat benevolent dog at home convincing Jerry they know what’s best for him.

The Voices is such an underrated dark film that tells an empathetic story about a man who suffers from schizophrenia, balancing with horror and comedy. The medicated VS unmedicated worlds portrayed are such extreme opposites that you can’t help but have compassion for Jerry as he struggles to function in life.

Numb (2007)

Numb 2007

Matthew Perry, known for being Chandler in Friends, knows what is means to struggle with depression. And so it’s no surprise his portrayal of a man suffering from mental illnesses is a genuine and believable one. Unfortunately, the movie gained no traction what so ever, ending up as just one of many unseen gems.

Numb centers on Hudson Milbank, a screenwriter battling depersonalization disorder, a mental disorder that makes him feel constantly disconnected from the world and his own self. But if that wasn’t enough, he also suffers from clinical depression. Desperate to cope with life he seeks treatment after treatment, meets shrink after shrink, but nothing seems to help. But when Sara (Lynn Collins) show up in his life, a glimmer of hope appears. A fight to find a balance between his disorder and his relationship begins.

I think most people have had that surreal state of mind of feeling an overwhelming detachment to the world and yourself. Imagine that was how you’re feeling all the time. Numb does an excellent job of portraying the struggles of someone who suffers with this type of mental illness, while also offering hope, humour and charm.

Written By


I've always had a deep love and fascination for movies, being an especially strong advocate for the weird, foreign, underrated, under-budgeted and unfairly NC17 rated films of our world. Cinesister is the embodiment of this passion (which some might call an obsession).

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