We applaud Hollywood for stepping up their game with films that explore the complexities of mental health—whether it’s an indie flick about dysfunctional families or a coming-of-age romance about a teen with schizophrenia. Although these titles spark important conversations, there’s still a stigma surrounding mental illness…and this needs to change.
Fortunately, there are several documentaries about mental health that focus on bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression and more. These movies also shed light on how these conditions can affect relationships and loved ones. Keep reading for 16 eye-opening documentaries to stream on Hulu, Amazon Prime and more.
1. ‘Out of Mind, Out of Sight’ (2014)
People with mental illnesses who commit violent crimes tend to disappear from the public eye—and no one gets to hear their stories. This documentary attempts to fix that by sharing the experiences of four patients at a forensic psychiatric hospital, all while lightening the tone with a bit of humor and charm.
2. ‘The Horse Boy’ (2009)
The Horse Boy chronicles the story of a Texas couple, who embark on a journey with their 4-year-old son, Rowan, who has autism. They travel via horseback to Mongolia, where they meet a shaman (or spiritual healer). And along the way, viewers learn quite a bit about the realities of living with severe autism.
3. ‘Boy Interrupted’ (2009)
After her son, Evan Perry, committed suicide at 15, his mother, Dana, decided to make a film that documented his struggle with bipolar disorder, as well as the impact his suicide had on the family. It’s just as heart-wrenching as it sounds, but along with his personal story, the film takes a deep dive into the complexity of Evan's condition.
4. ‘OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie’ (2010)
Director Bud Clayman gets vulnerable in this unique documentary about his own life, where he reveals how his OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and Asperger's syndrome halted his dreams of becoming a successful filmmaker. It also delves into his thought process as he deals with the challenges of making this life-changing documentary.
5. ‘Nadiya Hussain: Anxiety and Me’ (2021)
The former Bake Off winner is usually all smiles when we see her on the small screen, but when the cameras aren’t rolling, Nadiya Hussain suffers from extreme anxiety. In this raw documentary, she paints a vivid picture of what it’s like to secretly struggle with panic attacks and documents her efforts to pinpoint the cause by seeking treatment.
6. ‘The Wounds We Cannot See’ (2017)
The subject of this harrowing documentary is former U.S. Navy Airman Nancy Ross, who suffered a traumatic attack during her service and has been wrestling with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), depression and addiction ever since. It may be triggering for those who’ve had similar experiences, and it can be painful to watch at times. But it offers plenty of insight into how difficult the healing process can be.
7. ‘Letters from Generation RX’ (2008)
Are prescription psychiatric drugs really the best way to treat mental health problems? Before you answer, you might want to consider streaming this documentary, which addresses this very question. Letters From Generation RX dives into the science behind these drugs and their disturbing side effects.
8. ‘Of Two Minds’ (2012)
Inspired by Liz Spikol’s story for Philadelphia Weekly, which detailed her experience with bipolar disorder, Of Two Minds follows the everyday lives of people who are living with the condition. It also includes an intimate look at the lives of their loved ones and friends, highlighting the disorder’s ripple effect on others.
9. ‘Neurons to Nirvana: Understanding Psychedelic Medicines’ (2013)
Directors Oliver Hockenhull and Mikki Willis put together a captivating documentary that examines the history of psychedelic substances (LSD, psilocybin, MDMA and ayahuasca), as well as their benefits and impact on the medical world. With input from top psychologists and scientists, the film dives into why modern society is so averse to using these drugs to treat illnesses.
10. ‘Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind’ (2018)
In his own words, the late actor and comedian invites us to take a journey through his personal life and legendary career. The film tackles his struggles with addiction and depression, which were reportedly linked to his diagnosis with diffuse Lewy body dementia. Fellow stars Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, David Letterman and Steve Martin also make appearances.
11. ‘Shadow Voices: Finding Hope in Mental Illness’ (2005)
While this documentary offers a deeper look at what it means to live with a mental illness, it also maintains a hopeful tone, focusing on stories where individuals use their experiences to shift how we view mental health and recovery. It’s incredibly moving and educational—thanks to the helpful input of experts in the field.
12. ‘Light in the Darkness – Living Well After Trauma’ (2019)
Did you know that six out of every 100 Americans suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives? This film seeks to give viewers a better grasp of what it's like to live with this condition, including true stories that offer hope.
13. ‘Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated’ (2017)
The pop star has been vocal about her drug abuse and mental health struggles, but in this film, Lovato takes fans deeper with never-before-told stories and exclusive interviews with her family—including her mother, Dianna De La Garza. (P.S. You can also check out her other docuseries, Dancing with the Devil, where she discusses her near-fatal overdose and bipolar disorder.)
14. ‘Bipolarized’ (2013)
For further insight on the medical industry and what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder, watch Bipolarized. This fascinating doc follows a man named Ross McKenzie, who tries alternative medicines after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
15. ‘Medicating Normal’ (2020)
It's no secret that psychiatric drugs can help people with conditions like depression, insomnia and anxiety. What most people don't know, however, is that these medications can do serious harm.
Co-directors Lynn Cunningham and Wendy Ractliffe revealed in a statement, "Our hope is that Medicating Normal will present one very important and predominantly untold story so that as a society we can begin a meaningful, informed nationwide discussion about what it means to be fully human and mentally well."
16. ‘Thin’ (2008)
Follow the incredible journey of four women as they detail their experience with eating disorders, like anorexia and bulimia. Throughout the film, they detail their struggle to overcome these conditions and discuss how their body image issues affected their emotional and psychological health.