Often, Hollywood dramatizes serious mental health conditions to a point that can be damaging and misleading. For example, portrayals of dissociative identity disorder (DID) are often highly exaggerated and have spread misinformation about the condition. Another mental health condition that’s sometimes not represented accurately is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In a way, this isn’t entirely Hollywood’s fault. PTSD was only formally categorized as a mental health disorder in the 1980s. And even when it was recognized, at first it was only associated with soldiers and war. While PTSD is a common reality for soldiers, Hollywood has recently produced more realistic depictions of the condition. This includes distinguishing PTSD from other types of trauma and showing minor to severe cases of the disorder. Here are four movies about PTSD that portray the condition fairly and accurately.
Four Movies and Shows About PTSD
Iron Man 3
It might surprise some people to learn that Iron Man 3 tells Tony Stark’s PTSD story. The movie picks up the end of the storyline from 2012’s The Avengers. In The Avengers, Iron Man decided to sacrifice himself by intercepting a nuclear missile aimed at New York City. Tony Stark makes peace with his decision and the fact that he’s going to die. At the very last minute, the Hulk saves him, and The Avengers movie wraps up.
Iron Man 3 shows Stark’s struggle in dealing with the PTSD resulting from coming so close to death. He can’t sleep, suffers from anxiety attacks when reminded of the incident and refuses to acknowledge his symptoms. Perhaps most shocking is the complete shift from the person everyone knew Tony Stark to be — confident, arrogant and fearless.
The movie breaks down some of the misconceptions surrounding PTSD. This condition can happen to anyone — even the toughest of all. It also highlights that an individual battling PTSD won’t always be able to recognize it in themselves.
The Punisher is an American television show based on the Marvel comic book character. The first season in the series came out on Netflix in 2017 and after just one month, it was renewed for a second season. The show follows former Marine Frank Castle, who turns to punishing criminals after the death of his family.
The Punisher has been praised for showcasing the challenges veterans face transitioning from active duty back to civilian life. The show also highlights how those who go to war are celebrated but receive little assistance after returning home.
Although PTSD isn’t mentioned, it’s clear that’s what Castle is dealing with due to his wartime service and his family’s death. The flashbacks he experiences throughout the series show how prevalent PTSD can be and how it can bring up trauma repeatedly.
Of course, the Punisher is made for entertainment purposes and isn’t a perfect PTSD portrayal. Throughout the show, Castle responds to his grief and trauma by inflicting violence on others. In reality, veterans with PTSD are more at risk of suicide than hurting others. Still, the show does display a lot of the complexities of post-traumatic stress disorder in one captivating character.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a 2012 movie that follows high school student Charlie Kelmeckis. You won’t find this one on many lists about PTSD movies, but it’s a great example of characters with PTSD. Charlie has long suffered from clinical depression, and after being released from a mental health institution, he begins his freshman year. As the movie progresses, Charlie’s low self-esteem and the loss of his best friend to suicide the year before are revealed. When Charlie sinks back into depression, he experiences flashbacks to his childhood and the car accident that killed his aunt.
It’s understandable that being in the accident that killed his aunt would have such a traumatic impact on Charlie. However, throughout the movie, there’s an impression that there’s more to the story. At one point, Charlie shares with his friend Sam that his aunt was sexually assaulted, but she seemed to recover. Later on, when Charlie is having an intimate moment with Sam, flashes of his aunt come to mind. Eventually, a therapist helps Charlie uncover that he’d been sexually assaulted by his aunt and had repressed the memories.
The flashbacks, depression and repressed memories all show the long-term impact PTSD can have if it’s left unaddressed. Charlie doesn’t understand that he’s dealing with PTSD until he seeks help and comes to terms with the underlying trauma.
There’s no denying that John Rambo has severe PTSD. In First Blood, Rambo’s story starts seven years after he’s been discharged from the Vietnam war. He travels to see an old military friend but finds out he’s recently died from Agent Orange exposure. As Rambo wanders into a small town, he has an unpleasant encounter with the local sheriff. He’s arrested, and when the town deputies try to mistreat him, he has flashbacks to being tortured in Vietnam. This causes him to fight back and overpower his assailants, starting the infamous Rambo plot.
This movie highlights the challenges veterans face with transitioning back into everyday life after being at war. If a person is experiencing severe PTSD, they may not be able to even hold down a job. As of 2021, there are 1.4 million veterans at risk of being homeless.
Additionally, those with PTSD may have trouble maintaining their previous friendships and relationships and become isolated from loved ones. They may not have people in their lives to tell them they may have PTSD and encourage them to get help.
Rambo is one of the best-known examples of PTSD in movies. However, the creator, David Morell, didn’t know about the condition when he wrote the book, It was written between 1968 and 1971, and PTSD wasn’t widely recognized until the 1980s. But, although Morell didn’t know what PTSD was, he had interviewed soldiers and drew inspiration from their experiences. He wrote about PTSD before it even had a name.
Certainly, post-traumatic stress disorder movies can sometimes be exaggerated. However, it’s nice to see that for the most part, the condition is represented accurately. These four shows and movies have set a standard that, hopefully, Hollywood will continue to meet or exceed.
As seen in the above film adaptations, PTSD can cause anxiety, flashbacks, depression and other symptoms. And, unfortunately, PTSD isn’t something that goes away on its own. At FHE Health, we’re a fully licensed mental health treatment facility that helps with various conditions, including PTSD. Contact us today to learn how we can help you by calling (833) 596-3502.