“Brain on Fire” Film: A Look into the Fight for One’s Health



“Brain on Fire” is a film based on Susannah Cahalan’s memoir “Brain on Fire.”


*SPOILERS* This movie is worth watching. Please watch it or read the book before reading this post!


Issues the movie highlights:

  1. Patient issues not being taken seriously: For a significant portion of the movie, the doctors simply thought Susannah was partying too hard, just stressed, not sleeping enough, and/or drinking excessively. Despite her alarming symptoms, including seizures and sudden, erratic behavior, the doctors she sees initially do not seem to take her case seriously. This could have cost Susannah her life.
  2. Difficulty of illness on loved ones: Taking care of Susannah is exhausting. She can be aggressive, hostile and paranoid. At one point, her mother cannot handle it and asks her father to take care of the daughter. It becomes too much even for the father, especially when her hallucinations create a violent scene. The entire process of going from doctor to doctor only to end up with no answers is draining and discouraging. Losing their daughter more and more each day that goes by without a right diagnosis is the source of unimaginable levels of pain and heartbreak.
  3. The importance of standing up for patient: Susannah’s parents refuse to give up. They don’t want the most simple explanation, because they see it as inaccurate and unhelpful. They want to get to the bottom of it, even if the process is far from easy. The doctors were about to just label her with schizophrenia or psychosis and place her in a psychiatric hospital. However, this would have been the wrong setting, given that her illness is not even a psychiatric one. Sometimes, you (or your loved ones) have to be your own advocate.
  4. It is not always what it appears: Yes, she had symptoms which are associated with mania (She even goes to a doctor and claims that her characteristics align with those of bipolar disorder). Yes, she had symptoms associated with schizophrenia or psychosis. Yes, she had symptoms of depression. However, if the doctors had merely viewed her case as a psychiatric one, they never would have discovered the true diagnosis.
  5. Recovery is possible: It is important to not give up. Her health was rapidly deteriorating, but the doctors and her loved ones did not give up on her. She also continued to push herself, despite the difficulty of even moving. After treatment, Susannah had to work to regain even basic skills, but she was able to go back to living a full life. There is hope for a better tomorrow, even if getting through today feels impossible.


Have you watched the movie? Read the book? What did you think?

7 thoughts on ““Brain on Fire” Film: A Look into the Fight for One’s Health

    1. I have not yet read the book, but it is definitely on my reading list now! I think that the movie was really good in capturing the symptoms, diagnosis process/related frustration, etc. I liked it.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I went and watched the movie and came back to your post 🙂 In the movie, points 2 and 3 from your post are what stood out for me the most. Honestly, I got pretty emotional about how upsetting Susannah’s behavior was for her parents, because it made me think about how my struggles with Bipolar depression affect my family. Also, I was very impressed by her parents’ diligence in finding her diagnosis, not just accepting things that didn’t seem right to them. Thanks for the great recommendation! I will probably check out the book now, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read the book first and that was a great discovery for me, as later on I was diagnosed with autoimmune encephalitis myself. Before that I was unsuccessfully treated with antidepressants and antipsychotics but still tried to commit suicide, so clearly those meds didn’t help. I ended up being treated with intravenous steroids, I did not fully recover, but I did improve. I found the movie not expressing all the parts well – it just can’t portray what goes on in the mind – the fear, the paranoia, obsessive thoughts, etc. I recommend the book.
    Here is my story, in case you are interested:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing! That is really interesting. I think that everyone experiences illness differently, so I’m not sure if a movie depiction could ever really capture everything. I’m definitely interested in checking out your site! 🙂


      1. The movie wasn’t able to portray Susannah’s thoughts. The book really helped many people like me to identify with the paranoid thoughts and get tested for autoimmune encephalitis. She described really well in one chapter how she could not get over thinking about the death of a son of someone she was supposed to interview and then she could no longer do her job properly. I experienced the same obsessions that prevented me from doing anything like working or studying.

        Liked by 1 person

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