Films And Mental Health

What films have taught you about mental health

Published: Feb 22, 2012 06:42:42 AM IST
Updated: Jan 2, 2020 02:18:26 PM IST
Films And Mental Health
Image: Sameer Pawar

At their cinematic best, Hollywood films have created characters that personify some common mental disorders. Read about the lead characters in the Oscar nominated or awarded films below, and pick which of the following mental disorders they had.
a- narcisistic personality disorder
b- autism
c- schizophrenia
d- obsessive compulsive disorder
e- borderline personality disorder
f- anti-social personality disorder
I’d bet that you will do better than you expect!

(1) A Beautiful Mind – Russell Crowe plays the mathematician John Nash. He suffers from an illness that gives him auditory hallucinations, delusions and disordered thought. His disease is understood to be triggered by genetic and environmental conditions, especially involving substance abuse. Anti-psychotic medicines are the first line therapy.

(2) The Aviator – Howard Hughes, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, dedicates his life to airplanes. He buys stake in Trans World Airlines and develops aircrafts for the armed forces. His illness makes him excessively anxious and outright bizarre. He starts buying every hotel chain in Texas as he becomes fixated on his home state, and watches certain films continuously. Psychotherapy and medications including anti-depressants form initial treatment.

(3) Rain Man – Kim Peek was born special—he had no separation between the two hemispheres of his brain. Probably due to unusual neural connections in his brain, Peek was able to retain an unusual amount of information and recite obscure details such as the day of the week on which any date occurred. There is no cure per se for this condition, though reducing stressors and providing behavioural therapy can help manage daily living.

(4) The Black Swan – The protagonist in this film, played by Natalie Portman, performs both the innocent and dark roles in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. She has a personality disorder that leads her to have extreme reactions to other members of the cast, and even to harm herself. This is a challenge to treat, and psychotherapy is the mainstay.

(5) The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo – Nominated for five Academy Awards including Rooney Mara as best actress; Mara repeatedly breaks the law, deceives others and lives dangerously. She has a disorder that is found often in prisoners, and for which there is no effective treatment.

(6) Wall Street – Michael Douglas won an Academy Award for his legendary role as Gordon Gekko. Gekko is consumed by his ego and desire for greater power and prestige. People rarely will seek treatment for this problem and theories include overindulgence by parents and excessive admiration as causes of this. Sounds like some people you know?

Answers: (1) – c, (2) – d, (3) – b, (4) – e, (5) – f, (6) – a

Vikram Sheel Kumar, MD The author is a graduate of Harvard Medical School and director of Ozorie
Dr. Kumar, and our health team, can be contacted at

Check out our anniversary discounts on subscriptions, upto 50% off the website price, free digital access with print. Use coupon code : ANN2022P for print and ANN2022D for digital. Click here for details.

(This story appears in the 02 March, 2012 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

Show More
Post Your Comment
Required, will not be published
All comments are moderated
  • Johnny F

    Davin an Irish movie that deals with these issues

    on Aug 11, 2014
  • Harsh

    One character conspicuous by its absence is Paul Dano played by Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood. It got him Oscar too.

    on May 31, 2012
  • Pavan Karwa

    very good article ! interesting read !

    on Feb 22, 2012
  • Karishma

    Yes. These disorders need to be made 'popular' in India too. Besides, romance we need to be interested and aware about other things too. Most of the physical illnesses can be treated but as seen above mental illness can be controlled, so what needs more attention? That is the issue.

    on Feb 22, 2012