Observed throughout May in the U.S. since 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month has evolved over the years to address the challenges and stigmas of mental health. Mental health conditions vary in degree of severity, ranging from mild to moderate to severe. As they are on the rise worldwide — and with over a fifth of U.S. adults living with one — the need for awareness, conversations, education, and understanding has never been greater. In each generation, mental health has been explored and evaluated, with research breakthroughs offering new treatments. Discussions about mental health have increased significantly in recent years due to the global pandemic and its dramatic impacts on all demographics, the youth in particular.

Over the years, many mental health conditions have been represented in films. By employing the tools at their disposal, including music, sound design, cinematography, editing, and other cinematic elements, and through the experiences and perspectives of the characters being portrayed on-screen, filmmakers have depicted a variety of mental health conditions in an attempt to convey to their audiences what many around the world go through.   

From Oscar-winning dramas to psychological mindbenders to groundbreaking animated films, here are 10 of the many titles to watch this month (or at any time) to see mental health in a new light.

A Beautiful Mind

The true story of mathematician John Nash and his struggles with schizophrenia was brought to the screen by director Ron Howard and writer Akiva Goldsman (adapted from Sylvia Nasar’s biography) in this drama starring Russell Crowe, which earned eight Oscar nominations and won four, including Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Connelly. The film depicts Nash from his college days to his time teaching at MIT and Princeton. After Nash takes a government cryptography assignment, he is forced to confront the mental illness running in tandem with his groundbreaking mathematical work. 

Antwone Fisher

The theme of PTSD figures prominently in this film adapted by the real Antwone Fisher from his own book, charting his abusive childhood in a foster home through his tumultuous experiences in the U.S. Navy and ultimately his psychiatric sessions with Dr. Davenport (Denzel Washington) that helped him grapple with the trauma that was damaging his life. As played by Derek Luke, Fisher comes to represent determination and resilience in what the real-life man said was a story that "gives me faith and encouragement and reminds me that there are good and unselfish people in the world; people who would help an absolute stranger by giving him the tools to pull himself up."

Black Swan

Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning performance in Darren Aronofsky’s harrowing thriller touches on several mental illness issues, not explicitly naming but implying the challenges of anorexia nervosa and schizophrenia. Here Portman stars as Nina Sayers, a rising New York City ballerina whose push into the limelight for a prestigious production of Swan Lake causes the lines between reality and delusion to blur – including the presence of a sinister black swan doppelganger. Much of the film unfolds from Nina’s point of view, using fractured editing and an elaborate soundscape to disorient the viewer all the way to the end credits.

Dear Zindagi

A success in both India and the U.S., this romantic coming-of-age drama portrays an aspiring cinematographer, Kaira (Alia Bhatt), who seeks therapy for her depression. Her psychologist, Dr. Jug Khan (Bollywood icon Shah Rukh Khan), helps her deal with her feelings of familial rejection so that she may gain a new perspective on life. A mental health awareness conference is a major centerpiece in this film about looking for help to improve one's life.  

Inside Out

Used as a teaching tool by mental health professionals, particularly when dealing with adolescents, this animated Pixar feature directed by Pete Doctor (which was nominated for two Oscars and won for Best Animated Feature) began over his apprehensiveness over changes in his teenage daughter. Consulting with psychologists, the filmmakers came up with a funny and insightful portrayal of the inner workings of Riley, a girl whose family has just relocated to San Francisco, and her emotions represented by the characters of Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. The interaction and balance between these emotions forms the crux of the film's dramatic momentum, with the figure of Joy in particular having to pivot during this challenging life transition.

WATCH: Disney and Pixar's 'Inside Out 2' Trailer Introduces a New Emotion: Anxiety

Manchester by the Sea

Dealing with depression and PTSD after an utterly horrific personal tragedy, janitor Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is assigned guardianship of his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Haunted by guilt and still affected by a painful divorce from ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), he finds that working through the years-long grieving process may be a lifelong effort. Affleck won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance. The end result of writer-director Kenneth Lonergan's film balances pain and humor to show how mental health isn’t a simple matter of easy solutions and magical cures.


Actress Brittany Snow makes her directorial debut with Parachute, which she also co-wrote with Becca Gleason. The drama, starring Courtney Eaton and Thomas Mann, is about a twentysomething navigating a new romance shortly after she completes a stint in rehab. "When I was young, there wasn't a narrative movie about depression as it manifested into struggles with food and body issues," Snow tells A.frame. "Hopefully, this movie will cultivate a community going through similar feelings of leaving yourself, and normalize a needed conversation around it."

MORE: Brittany Snow on Making Her Directorial Debut and Destigmatizing Mental Health (Exclusive)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Drawing on his own experiences and feelings, Stephen Chbosky adapted his own young adult novel about the experience of dealing with PTSD and clinical depression at the start of high school. Here the narrative unfolds through the eyes of Charlie (Logan Lerman), who is still dealing with a devastating personal loss from the prior year as well as lingering childhood trauma. Through the connections made with two friends, he finds a tentative path forward but not without a few setbacks along the way. 

The Reason I Jump

The internationally famous book by Naoki Higashida about his experiences as an autistic 13-year-old learning to communicate with his neurotypical mother became the basis for this documentary by Jerry Rothwell. Five non-speaking autistic young people and their parents provide their perspectives on how they relate to one another, with the book itself factoring in how they underwent the process of learning about autism spectrum disorder and exploring how it can be approached together.

Silver Linings Playbook

Nominated for eight Oscars (including all four acting categories), this mixture of comedy and drama stars Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano, a man recently released from a psychiatric hospital where he grappled with bipolar disorder. The opportunity to enter a dance contest with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, who won Best Actress for her performance) proves to be a release valve from Pat’s current life at home with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver). The parallels between coping with mental illness and the catharsis of dancing culminate in an unforgettable finale, which was shot in multiple versions to get the right balance needed to match the progression of the story.

Welcome to Me

Kristen Wiig made a startling shift from her light comedy roles with her intense portrayal here as Alice Klieg, who stops using medication for her borderline personality disorder after she wins $86 million in a lottery. Frustrated with her media appearances, she bankrolls her own TV show and goes through an intense learning process that tests everyone around her. Directed by Shira Piven, the film is also notable for showing the effects of Alice's condition on her friends and family, particularly best friend Gina (Linda Cardellini) who figures prominently in a climactic breakthrough moment.


Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month 2023: Films to Watch in Celebration

Patricia Clarkson on 20 Years of 'Pieces of April' and Finding the Movies That Matter (Exclusive)

'He's Got Nothing to Hide': Davis Guggenheim on Revealing a New Side of Michael J. Fox (Exclusive)