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The Best Documentaries About Mental Illness

Updated March 17, 2020 1.3k votes 401 voters 94.0k 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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    Happy

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    Multiple Personality: Reality and Illusion

    James Myer

    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
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    18
    2

    Tourettes: I Swear I Can't Help It

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    35
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    Thin

    Lauren Greenfield

    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

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

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    26
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    Running from Crazy

    Barbara Kopple

    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
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    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
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    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
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    John's Not Mad is a QED documentary made by the BBC in 1989. It was ranked, in a British public poll, as one of the 50 Greatest Documentaries....  more
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    Let There Be Light

    John Huston

    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
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    16
    9

    Other Voices

    Dan McCormack

    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
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    11
    3

    A Journal of Insomnia

    Bruno Choinière, Thibaut Duverneix

    Released2013

    A Journal of Insomnia is a 2013 web documentary about insomnia, produced by Hugues Sweeney and created by Bruno Choiniere, Philippe Lambert, Thibaut Duverneix and Guillaume Braun for the National...  more
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    17
    11

    Tarnation

    Jonathan Caouette

    ActorsJonathan Caouette, Michael Cox

    Released2003

    Tarnation is a 2003 American documentary film by Jonathan Caouette. The film was created by Caouette from over 20 years of hundreds of hours of old Super 8 footage, VHS videotape, photographs, and...  more
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    12
    7

    I'm Still Here: the Truth About Schizophrenia

    Robert Bilheimer, Richard Young

    Released1996

    I'm Still Here: The Truth About Schizophrenia is a documentary film about schizophrenia. This 65-minute, black-and-white film was written and directed by Robert Bilheimer. Bilheimer began working on...  more
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    13
    7

    Are the Kids Alright?

    Ellen Spiro, Karen Bernstein

    Released2004

    Are the Kids Alright? is a documentary film which explores mental health care for children and youths at risk in Texas. Filmmaker, Ellen Spiro, gained unprecedented and unique access to troubled...  more
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    22
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    Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive

    Ross Wilson

    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
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    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
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    8
    4

    The Collector of Bedford Street

    Alice Elliott

    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
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    10
    6

    Dialogues with Madwomen

    Allie Light

    Released1994

    Dialogues with Madwomen is a 1993 documentary by Allie Light focusing on mental illness in women....  more
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    10
    7

    Children of the Stars

    Rob Aspey

    Released2007

    Children of the Stars is a 2007 documentary about children with autism in the People's Republic of China. It was produced by Alexander Haase and directed by Rob Aspey. The title is an English...  more
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    17
    17

    Ryan

    Chris Landreth

    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
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    10
    9

    Walk Away Renee

    Jonathan Caouette

    ActorsDominic Gould, Jared Hutchinson, Jorge Torres-Torres, Kathy Biehl, Derek Lucci

    Released2011

    Walk Away Renee is a 2011 American documentary film directed by Jonathan Caouette. It is the third full length feature in Caouette's filmography. Intended as a companion to Caouette's first film,...  more
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    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
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    10
    9

    The Horse Boy

    Michel O. Scott

    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
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    14
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    Titicut Follies

    Frederick Wiseman

    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
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    8
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    Silent Minority

    Nigel Evans

    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