Mental health and the movies have often been strange bedfellows, from "The Snake Pit" to "The Days of Wine and Roses" to "Less Than Zero."

Such films don't always successfully enlighten audiences about the subjects they tackle, but they do usually get people talking about those subjects.To take advantage of the medium's ability to heighten public awareness, the Western Institute of Neuropsychiatry is scheduling a four-week series of free movies, each film to be followed by a discussion of the issues they raise.

The series begins at 7 p.m. Monday in the Fort Douglas Theater, 36 Fort Douglas Blvd., with "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," the multiple Oscar-winner starring Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher and Danny DeVito, about a rebellious institution inmate (Nicholson) up against the stiff-necked nurse in charge (Fletcher).

After the screening, Dr. Leonard Schmidt will lead the audience in a discussion of "Psychiatric Hospital Care Today," in contrast to that shown in the film.

"The Breakfast Club," John Hughes' exploration of teen angst with Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez and Ally Sheedy, will be the film on March 20, followed by a discussion of "Teenage Issues and Answers," led by James Kahn and Karen Floyd.

"There Were Times, Dear," a TV-featurette with Shirley Jones as the wife of an Alzheimer's victim, will be shown on March 27, with Dr. Joel Gardner leading the dicussion of "Understanding and Coping with Alzheimer's and Mental Health Issues of the Aging."

And on April 3, "Bright Lights, Big City," with Michael J. Fox as a cocaine addict, will lead to a discussion of "The Impact of Drugs and Alcohol on Life Today," led by Dr. David A. Brizer.

"We were looking for films that allow people to get in touch with mental wellness," said Mary Talboys, a clinical social worker at the Western Institute. "Lecture sessions can be a scary event: `Am I acknowledging I am depressed by attending a lecture on depression?' Asking questions through the characters in the movies allows us to discuss mental wellness."

In addition to free admission to each film and discussion, free popcorn will also be served. The movies are provided by Top Hat Video in Jolley's Corner. For reservations or further information, phone the Western Institute, 583-2500. - Christopher Hicks