5 Best Mental Health Documentaries

5 Essential Mental Health Documentaries

  • The Horse Boy
  • I’m Still Here: The Truth About Schizophrenia
  • Walk Away Renee
  • Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive
  • Let There Be Light

Documentaries about various mental conditions and organic illnesses have become an excellent way to understand a given disease in a more personal way. While such films can provide a sense of comfort to an individual who experiences the disorder or condition, they also serve to increase awareness and understanding in society as a whole. While there are quite a few more than five great films about conditions that fall into this broad category, the article below provides some of the best currently available.

Related resource: Top 30 Best Graduate Programs in Developmental and Social Psychology

1. The Horse Boy

Based on the book by the same name, this documentary film focuses on the epic journey of two parents to find healing for their autistic son. The Isaacson family noticed that Rowan’s symptoms appeared to improve when he worked with horses. So, they went in search of a Mongolian shaman. The people of Mongolia have closer ties to their equine workmates than any other current society. Their lives depend mainly upon the labor and products horses provide. This close relationship spurred parents to leave their home in Texas and journey into the heart of a foreign continent to find answers for their child.

2. I’m Still Here: The Truth About Schizophrenia

Both written and directed by Robert Bilheimer; this 65-minute film provides a moving and in-depth approach to individuals coping with the disease. Stephen Mark Goldfinger, a noted psychiatrist who co-wrote the film, and the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression assisted with the primary production of the documentary. Although it boasts appearances by both Fredrick J. Frese and Susan Gingerich, it is the narrative driven by other individuals that prompted a reviewer from the National Health Service Corps to call it “extraordinarily moving.”

3. Walk Away Renee

The third film in Jonathan Caouette’s creative portfolio, this biographical documentary chronicles his cross-country journey with his mother, Renee LeBlanc. Because she was diagnosed with severe bipolar and schizoaffective disorders, the family decided that she should relocate to an assisted living facility located near Jonathan’s home. That meant a journey of several thousand miles from Houston to New York City, which inspired Caouette to write and produce the documentary. It was screened at the Canne Film Festival in 2011 as a work in progress. Later, Sundance Selects purchased the distribution rights to the film.

4. Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive

Produced by the BBC as a two-part television documentary, the Secret Life is presented and narrated by Stephen Fry, who suffers from a mild form of the disorder known as cyclothymia. Via interviews with experts and both private citizens and colleagues who also live with Manic Depressive Disorder, Fry attempts to frame the disease in a clear, understandable way. The film offers an opportunity for insight into what daily life is like with manic depression, what researchers have discovered, and how the disorder itself is framed in society. The program received an Emmy after its release.

5. Let There Be Light

Long before post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was understood, John Huston directed a moving and revealing film about it. Then known as Battle Fatigue, the condition was rarely discussed, especially by soldiers returning from the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific. Huston’s film follows 75 such soldiers who have sustained intense emotional trauma. At Edgewood State Hospital in Deer Park, Long Island, many of these soldiers received care, including drugs that were new at the time and exploratory procedures such as hypnosis. While the film clings to the optimistic tone of the era, Huston forbore to proclaim any miracle cures, instead choosing to finish the production with a brave assertion of continued care.

Documentaries about mental illness have gained in popularity as a medium of communication about the topic. They provide a more intimate and relatable framework in which disorder or organic diseases can be understood. As well, they often provide students pursuing degrees in mental health care with helpful perspectives and information about the historical context of mental health.