Madness in Media

I’m currently working on “The Study” chapter of my book Delight in Disorder: Meditations of a Bipolar Mind in which I will reflect on a few books that have had a significant impact on my understanding of my mental illness.  I also plan to include an “On the Shelves” section in which I list more resources (literature, visual art, movies, music) worth further exploration.

This is where I could use your help.  Below I’ve listed some of the resources I will either review or list.  I’d love to hear your experience with “media-depicted madness”.  Have any of these works touched you, or do you know of other works I might explore?


The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Manic: A Memoir by Terri Cheney

Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic Depressive Illness  by Patty Duke

Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher

Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison

Darkness is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness by Kathryn Greene-McCreight


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The Dream Team

Benny & Joon


A Beautiful Mind

The Soloist


Vincent (Starry Starry Night) – Don McLean

Visual Arts

“Scream”  – Edward Munch

“Vase with Twelve Sunflowers” – Vincent Van Gogh

“Spirit of the Dead Watching” – Paul Gaugin


What would you recommend?


(image above “Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night” from Rae Leff in Art I love)

46 thoughts on “Madness in Media

  1. Tony, I’m so glad to see how this project is progressing! 🙂

    Have you read the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”? The protagonist is living with an undiagnosed/mis-diagnosed mental illness. Could be relevant.

  2. The Yellow Wallpaper is a good short story of a woman going mad! I just had to read it in my Literature course. You have the two I was thinking of as well : Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and Girl Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. Great books! I have a friend who has a vast knowledge of movies and books. I will check with her and get back to you on this because I’m sure she would have some other good ideas! ❤

    • I’ll have to read “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Interesting that it seems there are more literary expressions from women with mental illness than men. I don’t think it’s because men aren’t mad, I think women are just more honest.

  3. I’m glad you found my blog, Tony, and led me over here. One movie I suggest is “Silver Linings Playbook.” The lead character (played by Bradley Cooper) is diagnosed as bipolar. He was nominated for an Academy Award.

    • I second that. It’s also a great movie.

      I loved One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I recommend “The Machinist”. It’s a mind-blowing psychological thriller; Christian Bale’s acting was superb.

      • I greatly enjoyed Ken Kesey’s book “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and I think I saw the movie, but was either under the influence of a manic episode or some illicit drugs at the time.

        I have plans to see “Silver Linings…” and I’ll try to check out “The Machinist”. Thanks for the recommendation.

  4. As a young woman dealing with not just depression but schizoaffective disorder, I’ve found passages of Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel extremely helpful.

  5. I read “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” but have never seen anything but the trailers for the movie. I read “Brillian Madness” when I was first diagnosed as bipolar. I own “Benny and Joon” although I have a difficult time watching it more than once every couple of years. I’ve also seen a movie based on “Yellow Wallpaper”; it was years ago so I didn’t remember its name until the others mentioned it.

  6. Under visual arts I would add Van Gogh’s blackbirds painting. It was painted the last month of his life. The birds are flying away and my interpretation of it is that he painted it knowing he would be taking his life soon. It is my interpretation, however, so others may see it differently.

  7. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is about a woman whose husband confines her due to what we would call postpartum psychosis (the fact that she just had a kid, and he’s taken her to get “rest” is all time-appropriate speak for how they would have dealt with the problem during that era).

    But…even if you don’t know that little tidbit, or read it with just the understanding of general mental disorder/illness, it is fascinating. When I read it, we weren’t told about the postpartum psychosis fact until after we’d been discussing it for quite a while. I remember reading it for my AP English class junior year in high school, and it was strange how I could understand parts of it better than most of my classmates. I could understand a bit how the woman felt in the story (the narrator), but most of my classmates just thought her “crazy” without reason. It is an interesting read, that if you haven’t gotten a chance to look at, you definitely should.

    I don’t watch a lot of movies or television to be honest. I mostly read books. But even then, I tend to not notice the mental illnesses of characters unless it is pointed out to me. I think, since I’m new to treatment that is working and making me see life like a normal person, I have always just assumed they were “normal”, because to some extent, in my worldview up until these last few months, some of the stuff these characters did was “normal”.

    But, I like the list you’re compiling. I have new reading material.

    • Thank you for your helpful review. I’m glad you enjoyed the list.

      I pray all goes well with your recovery. Keep reading and writing. I’ve found they really help.

  8. I also recommend The Yellow Room.

    I don’t recall much about An Unquiet Mind, other than that (as a Bipolar II person with occasional very mild hypomania, but mostly just appalling depression) I felt intensely jealous of Jamison’s highs.

    • Yes, Jamison had really, really great highs that prompted her on occasion to go off her meds. But the highs certainly cost her – emotionally, physically and financially. She mentions one shopping spree where she spent around $20,000. Ouch!

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I hope you’ll make a habit of it.

  9. One book I found helpful for myself, especially in the early years of my diagnosis was “Surviving Schizophrenia” by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey. He himself is a psychiatrist, and has at least one family member with a mental illness diagnosis.

    One movie I really liked was “Rain Man” with Dustin Hoffman playing an autistic savant and Tom Cruise playing his street wise brother. I found it both amusing, poignant, and sad all at the same time.

    As far as music goes, the music of Pink Floyd could possibly fall into this category as Syd Barret I believe it was had a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

    Any of the writings of Edgar Allen Poe, especially The Tell Tale Heart and The Raven.

  10. Hi Tony,

    Thanks for checking out my blog and letting me know about your memoir project. What a great idea. I’ve been particularly encouraged by reading the poetry of people who struggled with mental illness. Wlliam Cowper and George Herbert are some Christian poets who have dealt with depression in particular in their work. I also really identified with John Bunyan’s autobiography, “Grace Abounding” (Bunyan, like me, almost certainly had OCD). Less directly related to mental illness but still really helpful are Henri Nouwen’s “The Wounded Healer” and C.S. Lewis’ “A Grief Observed” – both give really productive ways of dealing with and processing our pain and brokenness. Hope that’s helpful!

    • Great recommendations. Cowper and Herbert were definitely two poets with a profound faith and an equally profound insight into psychological struggles. I’ll have to check out “Grace Abounding”. “The Wounded Healer” was very influential in my initial call to ministry. And I greatly admire the theology of C.S. Lewis, though I must confess I haven’t been able to make it through “A Grief Observed” as yet.

      Thank for responding and keep up the good writing.

  11. I’m glad to see Darkness is My Only Companion on the list. Silver Linings Playbook was a good movie suggestion too.
    A book that I loved really helped me accept the fact that as a bipolar I am somewhat marginalized by society and I’m ok with it after reading Jesus in the Margins by Rick McKinley. He doesn’t specifically dive into mental illness but does position those of us who suffer from it as still being important to God and that it is ok to live in the margins of society because that’s where Jesus lived and loved.

    • I meant to include “Darkness is My Only Companion”. Thanks for the reminder. I’ll have to check out “Jesus in the Margins”.

      Thanks for your input.

      • Some really good books that I’ve read which I don’t think have been mentioned yet by you or by your commenters above: Living To Tell: A Novel: (2000) Antonya Nelson; Stalking Irish Madness: Searching for the Roots of My Family’s Schizophrenia (2008) Patrick Tracey; Hurry Down Sunshine (2008) Andrew Greenberg; The Memory Palace (2011) Mira Bartok; Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness (2006) Pete Earley. Wow. I knew I was an obsessive compulsive reader, but I never realized how many books (both memoir and fiction) were on this particular subject. Probably a case of trying to heal myself.

      • Thanks for all the recommendations. I saw “Stalking Irish Madness” in a used book store today and almost bought it, but had reached my limit (I try to watch my spending, in case my mania kicks in).

        Thanks again.

  12. These are some of the mental health representations I’ve come across in the media.

    Extremely Loud and Increadibly Close (Aspergers)
    Girl, Interupted (Mental health ward. Main character has Borderline Personality Disorder)
    One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (Mental health ward)
    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Autism)
    Chipmunkapublishing have a lot of mental health books (they published mine)

    Numb (Matthew Perry as a character with desensitization disorder)
    Girl, Interupted (Mental health ward. Main character has Borderline Personality Disorder)
    One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (Mental health ward)
    Fight Club (Main character is meant to have dissociated personalities)
    The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Main character was abused and has depression/PTSD)
    Speak (Student develops depression after being raped and learns to express herself through art)
    Silver Linings Playbook (bipolar disorder)
    Black Balloon (Austism)
    Extremely Loud and Increadibly Close (Aspergers)
    Thin (anorexia documentary)
    A Beautiful Mind

    Films recommended by others (which I haven’t had a chance to watch yet):
    The Art of Getting By
    Prozac Nation
    It’s Kind of a Funny Story
    Black Swan

    TV programmes:
    The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive (Stephen Fry)

    Blue October (Frontman has bipolar and a lot of his songs are about mental health)

  13. Tony, this will be a fascinating study. I can’t wait to see what you conclude. One piece of entertainment you should check out is the Showtime series “Homeland” which chronicles the struggles of a bi-polar CIA agent. It’s treatment of the disorder is both honest and brilliant. The acting, writing and direction are seriously some of the best I have ever seen.

    And, of course, read everything about Van Gogh you can get your hands on.

    • I saw a blog post about “Homeland” just last night. I will definitely check that out.

      And yes, I plan to study up on Van Gogh (and try to keep the knives away from my ears).

      • I agree 100% with rodalena. You must learn more about Van Gogh. Lust for Life changed me forever. If you ever catch me in a museum looking at any Van Gogh painting you’ll see tears streaming down my face.

  14. Hi Tony, maybe you can look at adding “Mr Jones” and “The Silver Lining Playbook” to your list of movies on bipolar characters? Also, Van Gogh’s Sorrowing Old Man (‘At Eternity’s Gate’) is a good depiction of how a person with a mental disorder feels about himself (herself).

    • I hope to see “The Silver Linings Playbook” next week. I haven’t heard of “Mr. Jones”. I’ll have to check that out. And “Sorrowing Old Man (“At Eternity’s Gate”) sounds perfect.

      Thanks for the recommendations.

  15. Hi Tony. I have watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and would certainly recommend it. Other than that, I’m not sure how much help I can be! I have just borrowed “the dark threads” by Jean Davison, it’s a true story about the treatment given in the 70’s and 80’s, it looks to be a promising read. Hope that helps even if just a little! Good Luck with it all 🙂

  16. As a bipolar author of novels and nonficition, I’ve written a memoir about life before and after being diagnosed and medicated as bipolar 2. It is in my literary rep’s capable hands. Having read the books on your list, I’m impressed by how thorough you are and hope one day you may add my memoir.

    • Thank you for your kind words. Sorry it has taken me awhile to respond. “A Way With Words” has moved to . It would be great if you could follow us there.

      I am intrigued by your memoir. I hope you’ll keep us updated. I am meeting with an agent to pitch my spiritual memoir, “Delight in Disorder: Meditations from a Bipolar Mind.” We may both have books coming out soon!

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