As Good As It Gets is one of my all-time favourite films and having OCD makes me relate to its fantastic script even more. It’s also Mental Health Awareness week so I wanted to pass on the small wisdoms I’ve picked up on my journey.
The film turned 20 last year, and as it’s on Netflix, I decided to rewatch it recently to see how it holds up.
I still loved it and despite Melvin’s behaviour (Jack Nicholson), he learns to be better so it doesn’t contain the problematic narratives that some films do!
‘A single mother (Helen Hunt) and waitress, a misanthropic author, and a gay artist form an unlikely friendship after the artist is assaulted in a robbery.‘
I’m not saying it’s perfect by any means, but it was ahead of the time in many ways, including a three-dimensional portrayal of a gay man (Greg Kinnear’s Simon) that isn’t focussed on his sexuality.
I watched the film as a person with a mental illness, so I wrote down the salient ideas that speak to me in the script that I wanted to share with you.
These are the 10 things that I think As Good As It Gets does get so right about mental illness:
*Contains quotes and spoilers*
1. ‘Do you know how hard it was to come here?’
Melvin goes to the psychiatrist’s office for help, but he is turned away as he hasn’t made an appointment. The psychiatrist has set out boundaries so Melvin asks if he knows how hard it was for him to come.
His plea is acknowledged by the psychiatrist as this is a universal truth. It’s hard to get help when you feel desperate as your mind is all over the place. Acceptance can also be very hard.
Sometimes going to a psychologist means admitting something is wrong which can be tough. It can be hard to do when you feel that you can’t be helped, but that isn’t true and that’s just your illness speaking. It’s just a matter of finding the right professional to help you.
2. ‘Do you have any control over how creepy you allow yourself to get?’
Carol asks Melvin if he can control how creepy he gets and he says yes, which is why he hasn’t gotten personal. She feels bad and apologises to him. Melvin’s problems go beyond OCD and go much deeper – he certainly does not represent a typical person with OCD, as that doesn’t exist!
The point being made is that mental illness feels personal. Sometimes it’s hard to know where you end and the illness begins. I’ve felt that I’ve had to hold on hard to the person that I really am. I think recovery can be very much about getting back to how you are, and learning to differentiate that from the obstacles that can mind can throw at you.
3. ‘I need the cards’
It’s hard to have a conversation about mental illness with someone, whether you’re ill or not. Jackie has to tell Simon that he is broke, but she is distressed by his appearance after being beaten and using cue cards given to her by Frank (Cuba Gooding Jr).
Talking about mental health can be distressing to do and upsetting to hear about. I personally find it quite exhausting to talk about my problems. It’s totally draining but worth it when you need to figure things out as well as how to deal with what’s happening in your mind.
There’s nothing wrong with planning what you’re going to say about your problems, but you need to be prepared to dig deeper in some areas.
4. Gratitude is key to a peaceful mind
Carol writes a long letter to Melvin to thank him for paying for his healthcare. He says no thanks is required but she feels very strongly that she needs to express her gratitude.
It’s a great idea to write in order to quiet your mind, regardless of the reason. I try to write every day as it helps to focus my mind away from the negative stuff and distressing intrusive thoughts. It really works. We all have things to be grateful for, no matter how big or small and focussing on them can be very therapeutic. You can even put them in notes on your phone.
If you’re thankful to someone then Pay It Forward and tell them (another great film with Helen Hunt but problematic due to the controversy around Kevin Spacey).
Don’t forget how many people there are in the world that are thankful to you, whether you know it or not.
5. ‘I was trying to give you a boost’
A little humour can go a long way, but Melvin gets it so wrong when he tries to wind up Simon when he’s feeling depressed. Melvin thinks he’s giving Simon a boost, but he doesn’t see it that way. It’s very normal to have times like this when you struggle to find your sense of humour.
Even though it can be hard to laugh when you are having mental health problems, I find that looking for things you enjoy can help.
It’s worth looking for escapism in comedy and giving it a go whether it’s on TV, Youtube, in books or in podcast form. Comedy really helps me in dark times, so I’ve written two articles about 11 books by comedians that will make you laugh and 7 British comedy podcasts that will make you laugh out loud to inspire you.
6. Our parents cast a long shadow
Simon’s parents didn’t accept him and this makes his life harder, but he makes his own community who care for him. Parents who have abusive, unkind or controlling traits do cast a long shadow, but we can overcome that as adults.
It can take time but we create our own communities and learn to live with our past relationships and experiences. Sometimes that can mean talking to a professional and this helps to untangle those memories.
Parental relationships can be complex, so love and respect are essential for them to work. Sometimes that is an ongoing process, and I find it can be frustrating and rewarding.
If you have close family relationships, then be kind to them and be kind to yourself in times of stress as this can put pressure on you and your relatives.
7. Empathy is everything
Carol acknowledges what Simon is going through due to his horrible injuries more than anyone else. She has a sick son so she is well placed to empathise with him. This lack of judgment and kindness that he receives from her helps him to paint again as he feels safe in her presence.
They make each other feel good and this is so fundamental in a friendship. We all need that as we all crave acceptance and someone who cares for us. Melvin learns to empathise once he is removed from his solitary life. When he learns that Simon also can’t sleep, it connects them and he brings him soup.
Connection is everything, which is why it can help to join groups or forums to share our stories with others with the same problems. Just make sure that they’re run by professionals who know what they’re doing.
8. ‘Why can’t I have a normal boyfriend?’
Nobody is normal. Carol’s mother tells her that a normal boyfriend doesn’t exist. We all struggle with our minds at different times as we’re complex beings. If you’re having problems then you’re not alone. There may be a million people with the same issue, they’re just not talking about it.
9. ‘Maybe we could live without the wisecracks’
Melvin tells Carol that he could live without the wisecracks. I’m not saying that Carol should change for him, but compromise is key to a healthy relationship.
She isn’t perfect either and his illness doesn’t mean that there is inequality in their relationship. We learn how to be together and we incorporate our problems into that, whatever they may be.
10. Is this As Good As It Gets?
We’ve all asked ourselves that question, albeit not necessarily in this form. Dissatisfaction is a universal feeling. We all fundamentally know what it’s like to feel like shit. Whether that’s to feel low, doubt yourself, grieve, have a broken heart or to hate yourself. Or all of these things.
Life is full of highs and lows, but your values are what shape you, much more than anything else and they direct you toward the place you need to go. If you can continue towards your dreams without being drawn away by poor mental health then that is a great goal.
Recovery and management of mental problems can be a long road, but breakthroughs are being made all the time and stigmas are being challenged.
Obviously, there are issues with As Good As It Gets – love doesn’t cure mental illness or mental health problems, no matter how many movies tell us it will (looking at you Beautiful Mind).
It’s important to look after our mental health and acceptance is a deeply personal journey. Our paths cannot be as perfectly scripted as Melvin’s, life is messy and we have to be kind to ourselves.
There is kindness in the film and it can be therapeutic to care for others, but you have to care for yourself.
One of the best things you can do for yourself, is to demand robust treatment for your mental illness, if you feel that this is what you need, then please access the 24-hour resources below.
Have you watched As Good As If Gets? What did you think of the portrayal of mental illness? Let me know in the comments below!
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