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Hollywood and mental illness

Movies and television powerfully influence the way people think and they often perpetuate negative stereotypes of people living with mental illness.

“Television and movies are rife with images of the crazed killer and escaped mental patient,'” says Dr. Otto Wahl, professor of psychology at George Mason University and the author of Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illness.

But when the media portray people who live with psychiatric disorders as people who get treatment for their illnesses, have jobs and raise families, they help to fight the stigma of mental illness.

Some movies and TV shows are realistic and compassionate portrayals of people with psychiatric disorders. Here are some of the best of those that portray people living with depression, anxiety disorders or bipolar disorder:

Analyze This (1999): Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal. A psychiatrist has only two weeks to help a powerful Mafia boss control his panic attacks in this comedy. The sequel, Analyze That (2002), brings these characters together again.

As Good as It Gets (1997): Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt. A grouchy, rigid, obsessive compulsive author takes a new direction with the help of a waitress, a neighbor and his dog.

The Aviator (2004): Leonardo DiCaprio. Howard Hughes spent his early years as a driven film producer, pilot, and vastly successful businessman surrounded by Hollywood stars, as he struggled to control the phobias and compulsions that would come to rule his life.

Benny & Joon (1993): Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson. A talented young woman with bipolar disorder lives a sheltered life under the care of her devoted brother when a quirky and creative young man comes into her life.

ER (1994-2009) NBC-TV: Sally Field. Maggie, who has bipolar disorder, is the mother of a resident medical student. She has manic episodes and depression, especially when she goes off her medications. ER has been praised for its portrayal of this disorder. (Available on DVD)

The Hours (2002): Nicole Kidman. This dramatic story intertwines the life of 1920s novelist Virginia Woolf and her dark novel “Mrs. Dalloway” with the lives of two women living in the future who are influenced by her book. Each is living with depression.

Matchstick Men (2003): Nicholas Cage. The life of a con man whose life is organized around his obsessive-compulsive disorder and agoraphobia is upset with the appearance of a daughter he didn’t know he had.

Monk (2002-) (TV): Tony Shalhoub. A brilliant cop is forced to resign when he develops obsessive compulsive disorder and phobias following a tragic event. Now as a police consultant, he solves crimes as he works on recovery from his illness in this Emmy-award-winning series. (Available on DVD)

Mr. Jones (1993): Richard Gere. A man with bipolar disorder who has been misdiagnosed experiences dangerous mania and devastating depression. When he is saved by a caring doctor, a love affair develops.

(2001): Ed Harris. The story of abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock’s brilliant, innovative art and his emotional struggles. (While the movie does not use the term bipolar disorder, many authorities identify him with this disorder.)

Proof (2005): Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins. A young woman haunted by her brilliant but mentally disturbed mathematician father’s past after his death fears she may have inherited his mental instability along with his genius.

(2003): Gwyneth Paltrow. Poet and novelist Sylvia Plath’s creativity and inspiration wavers under the repression of her husband, poet Ted Hughes, as she struggles in her role as a 1950s wife. She writes her most brilliant poetry from the depths of her depression.

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