5 Films to View During Mental Health Awareness Month

To wrap up Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re sharing a few of our top picks for movies providing a window to mental illness or a mental health journey. Check out these five films streaming online.

Honey Boy (2019)

Autobiographical drama. Available on Amazon.

If you’re a millennial, you likely grew up watching the Disney hit Even Stevens, in which Shia LaBeouf emerged as the runaway star. And while, sadly, our culture is accustomed to dark celebrity backstories, LaBeouf’s autobiographical portrayal of this time in his life hits different. For a child who served as the source of so much joy, it’s truly jarring to see what was happening behind the scenes.

LaBeouf’s screenplay Honey Boy is a powerful portrayal of childhood trauma, abuse, treatment, and ultimately forgiveness as we follow a character named Otis on his lifelong journey to self-acceptance. The plot toggles between Otis’s traumatic childhood living with his father-slash-manager, and his experience as an adult in court-ordered rehab working to resolve the issues that contribute to his reckless and aggressive behavior.

The context of Honey Boy amplifies its power as we see a closed circuit for LaBeouf, who cast himself to play his father in the film. In making peace with his trauma, LaBeouf channels this release into performance — a good hero’s journey we hope for any artist.

Sorry to Bother You (2018)

Comedy, fantasy. Available on Hulu.

While not directly addressing a specific mental condition, Sorry to Bother You shines a light on how society’s systems and structures have disproportionately negative effects on the mental health of black and brown folks.

When the film’s main character Cassius — nicknamed Cash — lands a job as a telemarketer, he discovers he can achieve greater success with customers by using “white voice” over the phone. Cash continues to ascend the corporate ladder while the film descends into soul-selling chaos. The more Cash reaps from using “white voice”, the more his relationships and morals deteriorate.

Sorry to Bother You paints a psychological journey that countless privileged individuals are completely unaware of — a journey that has severe mental consequences when you’re not of the benefiting race or class. By putting this on glaring display, the film is representative of the choices people of color face every day, when far too often being your authentic self is deemed not good enough or, even worse, dangerous.

Frances Ha (2012)

Comedy. Available on Netflix.

Frances Ha can be viewed as a polarizing film — you either love it or you hate it. Regardless of which side you fall on, the film provides an undeniably fresh perspective on codependency and the anxieties of navigating adulthood.

Frances, played by Greta Gerwig, is a 27-year-old dancer trying to make ends meet in New York City. After a full-on romantic breakup and a partial friendship breakup, she’s left to struggle alone in pursuit of her dream of joining a dance company and surviving the city. While many coming-of-age tales of this sort for women involve seismic romance, Frances Ha stokes growth with solitude, self-analysis, discomfort and imperfection. No one “saves” Frances; she saves herself.

By giving us a fumbling, awkward protagonist in Frances, the film creates an authentic human experience in “figuring it out.” The characters present a relatability while traversing the low points of life that many viewers can identify with.

Anomalisa (2015)

Animated drama, comedy. Available on Crackle.

Anomalisa’s main character, Michael Stone, is an author and motivational speaker coping with depression. While Stone is attending a conference to deliver the keynote speech, he meets a unique woman, and a mild love story ensues. “Unique” is an important descriptor here, as Stone perceives every other individual in the film as identical in both face and voice. The deliberate construction of this world provides a beautifully multi-dimensional view of the experience of depression, but it also introduces the rare but real neuropsychiatric condition known as Fregoli syndrome.

Fregoli syndrome is classified as delusional misidentification, in which the patient believes strangers are all, in fact, a single familiar person in disguise. The film uses stop-motion animation and identical characters with indiscernible voices to give the viewer an idea of what it’s like to live with this condition.

While this is an effective way of altering the audience’s perspective, it differs from the real-life experience of Fregoli syndrome. Strangers might look and sound different to someone with this condition, but they feel familiar. So, strangers are often misidentified as a friend or loved one — a highly confusing and anxiety-inducing scenario. In the film, Stone isn’t racked with anxiety and paranoia, as most real-life Fregoli syndrome sufferers are. Nonetheless, Anomalisa introduces the audience to a realistic depiction of navigating the fog of depression.

The Soloist (2009)

Drama. Available to rent on Amazon.

Based on a true story, The Soloist follows journalist Steve Lopez as he meets Nathaniel Ayers, a man presently homeless and schizophrenic — and a genius musician. After discovering Ayers was once a student at Juilliard, Lopez makes it his mission to improve his circumstances.

The film isn’t the best depiction of how to properly support a loved one living with schizophrenia, but it does do well to represent the reality of mental illness. The audience isn’t presented with a cookie-cutter “crazy person” in Ayers, but rather a timeline of development that adds further context to his condition and how he arrived at his present state.

What the film does well is unfurling schizophrenia as an extremely complex condition, one that does not discriminate or care what your future plans might be. The heartbreaking reality of Ayers’s story is the same for so many others: Individuals suffering from untreated mental illness are often discarded by society, never given the chance to realize their full potential. Hopefully, more honest representations like The Soloist entering mainstream media can change that.

By Lauren Styx

Lauren Styx is a health magazine editor and freelance writer based in Chicago. Her storytelling explores health, culture, sustainability and the ways in which those areas intersect.

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