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The Best Documentaries About Mental Illness

Updated March 17, 2020 2k votes 403 voters 94.4k views60 items
There are a number of documentaries out there that discuss mental illnesses, including depression, suicide, autism, and insomnia. Documentaries are great educational pieces that can be extremely informative. The best documentaries about mental illnesses approach their given topics by presenting multiple sides of the issues and offering practical solutions. What are the best documentaries about mental illness?
 
A person who’s suffering from a mental illness can be hard to understand. Many display irrational behaviors and thinking patterns that isolate them from the rest of the world. For family members and friends who know a loved one suffering from an illness of this type, a relationship can be incredibly difficult to navigate without better understanding. A documentary about mental illness can help identify medical reasons for mental disorders, and offer a sense of connection through understanding the associated symptoms more easily.
 
This list discusses the best documentary films discussing mental illness, including: The Horse Boy, Ryan, Tarnation, Happy, Let There Be Light, Isolation, Other Voices, Flipping Out, Walk Away Renee, Warrendale, and My Heart of Darkness. 
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  • 1

    Multiple Personality: Reality and Illusion

    James Myer
    82
    10

    Released1999

    Multiple Personality: Reality and Illusion is a 1999 documentary film that explores Dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. The fact based docudrama delves...  more
  • 2

    Running from Crazy

    Barbara Kopple
    71
    13

    Released2013

    Running from Crazy is a 2013 documentary film by director Barbara Kopple about the family of Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway. It was shown at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Through the...  more
  • 3

    Let There Be Light

    John Huston
    46
    10

    Released1946

    Let There Be Light is a 1946 American documentary film directed by John Huston. The film was the last in a series of three films directed by Huston while serving in the United States Army Signal...  more
  • 4
    Canis Lupus added

    Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive

    Ross Wilson
    56
    21

    Released2006

    Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive is a 2006 two-part television documentary directed by Ross Wilson and featuring British actor and comedian Stephen Fry. It explores the effects of...  more
  • 5

    Other Voices

    Dan McCormack
    40
    9

    ActorsStockard Channing, Mary McCormack, Rob Morrow, Peter Gallagher, Campbell Scott

    Released2000

    Other Voices is a 2000 drama film written and directed by Dan McCormack....  more
  • 6

    Ryan

    Chris Landreth
    48
    17

    ActorsDerek Lamb, Ryan Larkin, Chris Landreth, Felicity Fanjoy

    Released2004

    Ryan is a 2004 animated documentary created and directed by Chris Landreth about Canadian animator Ryan Larkin, who had lived on skid row in Montreal as a result of drug and alcohol abuse. Landreth's...  more
  • 7

    Happy

    55
    25
  • 8

    Titicut Follies

    Frederick Wiseman
    39
    15

    Released1967

    Titicut Follies is a 1967 American documentary film directed by Frederick Wiseman and filmed by John Marshall, about the patient-inmates of Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane, a...  more
  • 9

    ActorsMelissa Francis, James Farentino, Don Chastain, Stephen Elliott, Kathryn Harrold

    Released1979

    Son-Rise: A Miracle of Love is a televised docudrama film that aired on NBC in 1979 and is adapted by the biographical book Son-Rise by Barry Neil Kaufman. It is the real life story of how, according...  more
  • 10

    The Horse Boy

    Michel O. Scott
    27
    9

    ActorsRupert Isaacson, Kristin Neff, Rowan Isaacson

    Released2009

    The Horse Boy is a 2009 documentary film directed by Michael O. Scott. A family travels through Mongolia in search of a mysterious shaman who they believe can heal their autistic son....  more
  • 11

    Dialogues with Madwomen

    Allie Light
    24
    6

    Released1994

    Dialogues with Madwomen is a 1993 documentary by Allie Light focusing on mental illness in women....  more
  • 12

    Tourettes: I Swear I Can't Help It

    19
    2
  • 13

    The Collector of Bedford Street

    Alice Elliott
    21
    4

    Released2002

    The Collector of Bedford Street is a 2002 documentary film about director Alice Elliott's neighbor, Larry Selman, a community activist and fundraiser who had an intellectual disability....  more
  • 14

    Released2007

    A Summer in the Cage is a 2007 documentary film about a man's experiences with bipolar disorder. The film follows the filmmaker's friend Sam and features an interview with mental health scholar Kay...  more
  • 15

    Released2013

    Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse is an American feature length documentary film, released in 2013 and directed by Brian Lindstrom. The film explores issues of police accountability in...  more
  • 16

    Silent Minority

    Nigel Evans
    19
    6

    ActorsNigel Evans

    Released1981

    Silent Minority is a 1981 British documentary film made by Nigel Evans for ATV which aired in June 1981 on ITV. The film spotlights the conditions of mental patients at the Borocourt Hospital near...  more
  • 17

    Warrendale

    Allan King
    19
    6

    Released1967

    Warrendale is a 1967 documentary film by Canadian filmmaker Allan King. It was originally produced for broadcast on CBC Television, but was never shown due to King's refusal to edit out the copious...  more
  • 18

    Released2006

    The Devil and Daniel Johnston is a 2006 documentary film about the noted American musician Daniel Johnston. It chronicles Johnston's life from childhood up to the present, with an emphasis on his...  more
  • 19

    Isolation

    Billy O'Brien
    23
    11

    ActorsRuth Negga, Essie Davis, Sean Harris, John Lynch, Marcel Iureș

    Released2005

    Isolation is a 2005 Irish horror film directed and written by Billy O'Brien and produced by Film Four and Lions Gate Film Studios. The film was released direct to DVD on 26 June 2007....  more
  • 20

    Thin

    Lauren Greenfield
    33
    24

    ActorsShelly Guillory, Brittany Robinson, Alisa Williams

    Released2006

    Thin (often styled as THIN) is a 2006 American cinéma vérité documentary film directed by Lauren Greenfield. At The Renfrew Center of Florida in Coconut Creek, a 40-bed residential facility for the...  more

    #5 of 30 The Best Movies About Eating Disorders#1 of 33 Powerful Documentaries About Eating Disorders

  • 21

    Seven Dumpsters and a Corpse

    Thomas Haemmerli
    18
    7

    ActorsThomas Haemmerli, Erik Haemmerli

    Released2007

    Seven Dumpsters and a Corpse is a documentary film by Swiss journalist Thomas Haemmerli....  more
  • 22

    Marwencol

    Jeff Malmberg
    26
    18

    ActorsMark Hogancamp

    Released2010

    "Marwencol is a fantasy world created by Mark Hogancamp. This website is dedicated to capturing the beauty of Mark's secret world. After being beaten into a brain-damaging coma by five men outside a...  more
  • 23
    Jason Jensen added

    Code Therapy

    31
    24
  • 24

    You're Gonna Miss Me

    Keven McAlester
    19
    9

    ActorsBilly Gibbons, Roky Erickson

    Released2005

    You're Gonna Miss Me is an American documentary film by Keven McAlester. It focuses on Roky Erickson, the former frontman for the band The 13th Floor Elevators. The band is cited as pioneers of the...  more
  • 25

    Out of the Shadow

    Michael Winner
    16
    7

    ActorsTerence Longdon, Donald Gray, Dermot Walsh, Robertson Hare, Diane Clare

    Released1961

    Out of the Shadow is a 1961 British thriller film directed by Michael Winner and starring Terence Longdon, Donald Gray, Diane Clare, Robertson Hare and Dermot Walsh....  more