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Hollywood and mental health

Portrayals of people with mood and anxiety disorders

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. "Coverage in newspapers features negative stories about mental illness at double the rate of positive stories."

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.

Several movies and TV shows are realistic and compassionate portrayals of people with psychiatric disorders such as mood and anxiety disorders.

Here are some of the best:

Analyze This (1999) starring Robert De Hollywood and mental healthNiro, Billy Crystal. A psychiatrist has only two weeks to help a powerful Mafia boss control his panic attacks in this comedy.

Analyze That (2002) brings these characters together again in a sequel.

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

The Aviator (2004) starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Howard Hughes lived his early years as a perfecting film producer, pilot, and immensely successful businessman surrounded by Hollywood stars, while he struggled to control the phobias and compulsions that would eventually worsen.

Benny & Joon (1993) starring Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson. A delightful story of a talented young woman with bipolar disorder who is being cared for by her devoted brother when a quirky and creative young man comes into her life.

ER - NBC-TV series starring Sally Field. Maggie, who lives with bipolar disorder, is the mother of resident medical student Abby Lockhart. Like many with the disorder, she has manic episodes and depression, especially when she goes off her meds. ER has been praised for its portrayal of this disorder.

The Hours (2002) starring 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 later time periods who are influenced by her book. Each is living with depression.

The Horse Whisperer (1998) starring Robert Redford. After a riding accident, a mother takes her physically and emotional injured daughter and the wounded horse to Montana to work with a man who has unique skill with horses.

Matchstick Men (2003) starring 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) starring 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 comedy series. Co-creator and producer David Hoberman has been recognized by SAMHSA, is a public health agency within the Department of Health and Human Services for his years of mental health advocacy.

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

Pollock (2001) starring Ed Harris. This is the story of abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock and his brilliant and innovative art and his emotional struggles. While the movie does not use the term bipolar disorder, many authorities identify this disorder in him.

Shine (1996) starring Geoffrey Rush. Oscar-winning portrayal of Australian keyboard virtuoso David Helfgott who survived a breakdown and institutionalization to become an acclaimed concert pianist. While the movie portrays him as schizophrenic, his illness is frequently referred to as bipolar disorder. (Until recent years, bipolar disorder was often misdiagnosed as schizophrenia.)

Sylvia (2003) starring Gwyneth Paltrow. The creativity and inspiration of poet and novelist Sylvia Plath wavers as her talent is repressed by her husband, poet Ted Hughes, and her role in a 1950s marriage. She writes her most brilliant poetry in the debts of her depression.