May is Mental Health Awareness Month
To increase awareness of the fact that, according to NAMI, one in five teens experiences some form of mental illness, I’ve put together a list of female-directed, co-directed, written or co-written films that deal with mental illness, whether as the central theme or in relation to the plot.
Each one of these woman-made films about mental health presents an opportunity for parents and their teen daughters to discuss the impact of mental illness on families and communities. For example, in Infinitely Polar Bear, a father with bipolar disorder becomes the main caregiver for his daughters while his wife moves away to study for her MBA. This causes the family to negotiate both the absence of the mother and the father’s illness. In Sweetie, the mental illness of one sister dominates the family. In Horse Girl, a young woman’s life turns upside down as her psychosis deepens and as a result, her behavior becomes more and more inexplicable.
The way in which media portrays women and girls is crucial to their mental and emotional health. “The specific mental health consequences of extended exposure to portrayals of unrealistic and unhealthy behaviors of girls and women may not be clear, but some advocates see enough data to cause concern and to take action” Psychiatric News, 12/2010.
It’s important to watch women-made films about this topic. The way in which mental illness has been defined, and therefore depicted in films, has traditionally been through the male perspective. Women-made films promote a new understanding of how we recognize, understand and treat mental illness.
- Sweetie, 1989, dir. Jane Campion, rated R
- An Angel at My Table, 1990, dir. Jane Campion, rated R
- Eve’s Bayou, 1997, dir. Kasi Lemmons, rated R
- The Virgin Suicides, 1999, dir. Sofia Coppola, rated R
- 28 Days, 2000, Betty Thomas, rated PG-13
- Little Miss Sunshine, 2006, co-dir. Valerie Faris, rated R
- Lars & the Real Girl, 2007, screenplay by Nancy Oliver, rated PG-13
- Frozen 1 & 2, 2013 & 2019, co-dir. Jennifer Lee, rated PG
- Infinitely Polar Bear, 2014, dir. Maya Forbes, rated R
- Welcome to Me, 2014, dir. Shira Piven, rated R
- Horse Girl, 2020, screenplay by Jeff Baena and Alison Brie, rated R
Many more films about mental illness exist than the ones listed here, and more than a few of those feature women and girls. Such a lack of female directors exists that it took some time to compile the list for this blog post!