Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan© Red Chillies Entertainment

Watch These Brilliant Movies That Explore Mental Health Issues

The younger generations—particularly millennials and Gen Z’ers—have grown up in tumultuous times and have navigated many history-defining catastrophes including the COVID-19 pandemic, terrorist attacks, school shootings, climate change and political unrest. But, these very generations have consistently proven to be the ones that openly discuss mental health—which is awesome to say the least. It’s important to explore taboo topics like mental illness and therapy, especially in popular culture, for it to have an impact on society at large, and the portrayal of mental health in mainstream cinema is definitely helping make a difference.

Since yesterday was World Mental Health Day, we decided to take a look at various films covering diverse aspects of mental health and the ways in which mental illness manifests in the human mind. The wide range of genres, contexts and subjects explored in these movies is a refreshing change from the superficial fluff we all seem to enjoy once in a while.

From Alia Bhatt’s breakthrough of a mental journey with her therapist in Dear Zindagi to the humanisation of DC’s most infamous villain in Joker, these films about mental health deliver cinematic excellence while delving deep into stigmatised topics through a realistic lens.

Dear Zindagi (2016)

This underrated gem of a Bollywood movie investigates a plethora of mental issues including normlising therapy, anxiety, childhood trauma, insomnia, fear of commitment and being judged. The Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan-starrer handles such a delicate subject with utmost grace and is also peppered with some catchy tunes and tracks. The movie compels us to reflect on the status of our mental health as well as our relationships, and that nudge never feels forced or out of place. Bhatt’s Kiara is a twenty-something woman dealing with failed romantic relationships, estrangement from her immediate family, anxiety, jealousy and depression. Her life takes an unexpected turn when she stumbles upon a well-known therapist at a convention in her hometown and begins going to therapy.

Watch it here!

Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

No one can understand PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) as well as a trauma survivor. This beautiful coming-of-age movie follows the life of socially awkward teenager Charlie (Logan Lerman) who is always watching life from the sidelines—a wallflower who never participates. When two outgoing and free-spirited siblings (Emma Watson and Ezra Miller) from his school befriend and mentor him, Charlie begins to discover the pains and joys of friendship, music, literature, love, life and more, while being encouraged to pursue his passion for writing. However, when his newfound friends and confidantes have to leave for college, Charlie’s inner anxiety and PTSD from his childhood trauma begins to bubble to the surface again. The film brilliantly captures a teenager’s mental health hurdles and chronicles his road to recovery.

Watch it here!

Silver Linings Playbook (2012) 

David O. Russell made this Philadelphia-set masterpiece about two lovers suffering from mental issues navigating their individual hot messes, as an ode to his own son’s bipolar disorder and OCD. Silver Linings Playbook follows the life of a troubled young man Pat (Bradley Cooper) with bipolar disorder, freshly out of a job and a failed marriage, who after spending time in a mental institution winds up unwillingly bunking at his sports fanatic parents’ (Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver) house. While trying to win back his wife and get back on his feet, Pat comes across Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who is battling her own demons in the form of a manic depressive illness brought on by her husband’s death, and enlists her help for reuniting with his wife. Things get complicated when he has to do something important for her in return. Full of laughter, heartbreak, hope and complexity, the movie explores mental health issues in a sophisticated and entertaining manner.

Watch it here!

Joker (2019)

DC’s most loved and hated villain, the Joker’s human side is highlighted in this 2019 film, embodied by Oscar-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix. Picturised as an unflinching urban tale of a man suffering from acute mental illness which explodes after being shrugged off for so long, Joker follows the life of Arthur Fleck, a depressed, middle-aged man still living with his high-maintenance mother while bordering on poverty and earning peanuts as a party clown. While the world is busy tagging him as a loser and making fun of him on the daily, Fleck gradually embraces his dark and morbid side, leading him to killing people on live TV, causing riots in the street and “taking revenge” on the people that mocked his plight. “The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t” is a dialogue from the movie that perfectly describes the attitude of modern society towards mental health.

Watch it here!

Girl, Interrupted (1999)

The film brings to life the memoirs of a young woman’s first hand experience of living in an American psychiatric hospital in the 1960s. This a great watch for people who are curious to understand how different mental illnesses affect the human mind and the repercussions of the same. It explores sensitive issues such as suicide and depression and follows the life of an 18-year-old girl, Susanna, who is admitted into the women’s facility after a failed suicide attempt. When she encounters various women with mental health problems in her ward, she gains new perspective and tries to improve her condition through friendship, sisterhood, love, heartache, and acceptance.

Watch it here!

Karthik Calling Karthik (2010)

Not many Bollywood movies have covered complex topics like dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia, and Karthik Calling Karthik is a brilliant exception. Farhan Akhtar’s Karthik is an undiagnosed mental patient who is also underconfident, introverted and insecure and is trying to survive in a cut-throat corporate setup. Burdened with the self-inflicted blame he takes on for his brother’s death for years, he lives a low-key life until he gets a mysterious phone call one day. Co-starring Deepika Padukone as his love interest, the thriller film was truly ahead of its time and deserves more recognition.

Watch it here!

Melancholia (2011)

Lars von Trier’s sci-fi drama follows the tumultuous life of two sisters, one of whom is recovering from depression and a nasty divorce, juxtaposed against the other sister’s impending marriage and the hope and promise of a happy life that accompanies a lifetime partnership. All this is set against the gradually-unfolding supernatural event of a rogue planet named ‘Melancholia’ crashing towards the earth and threatening to end it all. If you haven’t yet watched the stunning, awe-inspiring and bone-chilling movie, add it to your watchlist, stat!

Watch it here!

Inside Out (2015)

Disney/Pixar’s masterful and exquisite animated movie implores viewers to peek inside the complex workings of an adolescent girl’s mind and how the “headquarters” of her different emotions take turns controlling her actions and her feelings. When the 11-year-old child’s world turns upside-down after she moves with her parents to San Francisco, leaving behind her familiar midwest hometown, she has to deal with her roller coaster ride of ebbing and flowing emotions each passing day. Riley’s emotions including joy, sadness, fear, anger and disgust are personified by different characters in the movie, and these little people try to guide her through this difficult, life-changing event in true ‘Lizzy McGuire’s animated alter-ego’ style. The relentless tearjerker reminds us that sadness and suffering are an inevitable and essential part of living a full, all-encompassing and well-rounded life, and it does so with nuance and grace loved and understood by people of all ages.

Watch it here!