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Mental Illness in Film

Mental illness, as it has been portrayed in film, has come a long way since The Three Faces of Eve, Lisa and David, Marnie, Misery, Ordinary People and Spellbound. While admittedly compelling, these and many other films tend to portray those with mental illness as utterly defined by their mental illness. Even (and sometimes especially), films based on true stories. We suppose this is natural since a film (or play), generally lasts under two hours and therefore must distill character down to archetype.

But recently, with the grassroots efforts at de-stigmatization of mental illness, documentary films about mental illness have been gaining ground. A couple months ago we interviewed Katie Cadigan, producer of When Medicine Got It Wrong which explored the founding of NAMI, the National Alliance of Mental Illness. (We recommend it if you haven’t seen it—it offers a glimpse into the American cultural history of mental illness and activism).

Prior to that, Katie and her brother John (and Academy award winner Ira Wohl), made the incredible award-winning film People Say I’m Crazy, which offers a very intimate look into the story of John’s schizophrenia, his art, and his life.

The Released is a 2009 documentary that explored the difficulties faced by prisoners with mental illness as they cycled in and out of prison. And the NKM2 (No Kidding Me Too) documentary is a hopeful look at mental illness with a mission—de-stigmatization. The past few years have been fertile years for respectful, new looks at the topic.

Recently we were talking with filmmaker Paula Eiselt about her upcoming documentary called “Following Boruch,” made with executive producer, internationally acclaimed filmmaker Marco Williams. Paula has been filming her uncle (and a dear friend of ours), who has bipolar disorder as he goes about living his truly amazing life. Boruch shares insights into spirituality, creativity and living with bipolar disorder.

We can hardly wait until it’s finished and we’ll let you all know when it will be airing. Go Boruch and Paula!

Mental Illness in Film

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2010). Mental Illness in Film. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 26, 2019, from


Last updated: 29 Jun 2010
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 29 Jun 2010
Published on All rights reserved.