DSM-5: Diagnoses Seen in Movies

Clinical Update

By Zur Institute

View a complete list of Clinical Updates.

DSM-5: Diagnoses Seen in Movies

  • Using movies to understand common DSM diagnoses
  • Learning about the DSM-5 with fun and the movies
  • What can movies teach us about diagnosis?

Movies are particularly well suited to depict psychological phenomena. The combination of images, music, dialogue, lighting, camera angles, and sound effects in a film mimic thoughts and feelings that occur in our consciousness. Since characters in many popular films portray persons who live with mental disorders, these depictions offer a unique learning opportunity.

Therefore, films can help us learn about the use of the DSM-5 for effective treatment planning and communicating with colleagues, as well as with insurance companies, in an enjoyable and emotionally engaging way. Following are a few examples of how these movies can illuminate the multifaceted nature of mental disorders.

Samples of Movies & Diagnoses:

  • Young Adult illustrates borderline personality disorder.
  • Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps depicts narcissistic personality disorder.
  • A Beautiful Mind offers a powerful opportunity to understand schizophrenia.
  • Flight demonstrates substance-related disorders.
  • Silver Linings Playbook offers the opportunity to learn about many aspects of bipolar disorder.
  • Mad Love depicts a character with symptoms of cyclothymic disorder.
  • Girl Interrupted invites us to discuss major depression and the complexities of differential diagnosis (major depression vs. borderline personality disorder).
  • American Splendor offers an opportunity to learn about persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia).
  • As Good As it Gets illustrates almost every possible symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • The Sopranos teaches about panic disorder.
  • Annie Hall illuminates generalized anxiety disorder.
  • In Country depicts a Vietnam War veteran with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.


Did you know these facts about the DSM-5?

  • One of the biggest changes in the DSM-5 is the elimination of the multi-axial system.
  • In the revised manual, substance abuse and substance dependence have been combined into one overarching category called substance use disorder.
  • The introduction of a severity scale for substance use disorders is meant to help addiction treatment fall in line with physical medicine.
  • In the DSM-5, bipolar disorders are given a section separate from depressive or unipolar disorders.
  • In the revised DSM-5, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder have been removed from the family of anxiety disorders and given their own diagnostic categories.
  • The DSM-5 pays more attention to the behavioral symptoms that accompany PTSD than had the DSM-IV.
  • Critics are concerned that normal grief becomes major depressive disorder, thus medicalizing and trivializing our expected and necessary emotional reactions to loss.
  • Critics are also concerned that the revised manual will divert precious mental health resources away from those who most need them.