Depression is a debilitating condition affecting over 250 million people worldwide. Over 16 million Americans suffer at least one depressive episode in any given year. With so many people impacted by mental health problems, such as depression, it’s no surprise that many movies deal with this theme.
Today, we’ll be walking you through a dozen films that tackle the theme of depression, so there should be something for everyone. Before we begin, it is worth noting that if you or a loved one is dealing with serious depression, it is important to seek out a depression treatment center to help walk you through the process.
Why Should You Watch Movies About Depression?
If you find you’re spending too much time living in your head as a result of depression, films can be a worthwhile distraction from otherwise unmanageable pain. Watching a movie can take you to another time and place, free of the worries that are dragging you down. Now, if that movie also happens to feature a character battling the same demons as you are, you can empathize with their experience and relate to the character. You can also, of course, draw hope from inspiring characters who conquer depression and come out the other side stronger.
While it might seem counterintuitive to watch a sad or tragic movie when you’re depressed, some research shows that people feel happier with their lives in the short term after watching a movie like this.
If you’re not convinced, watching a comedy can help release endorphins. This can help to mitigate mood swings and reduce stress. Laughing also releases dopamine, the chemical that produces pleasurable feelings. When you laugh hard for 15 minutes, it has the same effect as exercise on your cardiovascular system.
Maybe it’s not you who’s depressed but a loved one. If so, watching movies accurately depicting depression can help you to better understand what they are going through. If you think your loved one should “snap out of it”, perhaps watching one of the films we highlight today will show you that’s not always possible, and it could even shift your perspective on this debilitating illness.
Now, let’s get into these movies.
12 Great Movies About Depression
- Garden State
- Prozac Nation
- World’s Greatest Dad
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- Little Miss Sunshine
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower
- Girl, Interrupted
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
- The Royal Tenenbaums
1) Garden State
Negative beliefs are instrumental in shaping depression. These beliefs can end up becoming a burden and they rob people of joy.
In Garden State, struggling actor Andrew Largeman feels he was responsible for an accident that disabled and ultimately killed his mother. This guilt made him numb and indifferent to many aspects of life.
Estranged from his family for a decade, Largeman leaves Los Angeles to attend his mother’s funeral in New Jersey. He meets up with old friends and, despite taking ecstasy and marijuana at a party, Largeman remains detached.
When he meets with his doctor, we learn that Largeman has been taking antidepressants and mood stabilizers like lithium since the age of 10. He claims that his father, who is also his psychiatrist, put him on this medication.
The remainder of the movie sees Largeman become romantically involved with Sam, a pathological liar. He stops taking his medication and starts opening up to the world around him.
The action ends with Largeman telling his father that he was not guilty of causing the accident and that he would no longer be taking medication. He forgives his father and resolves to work on strengthening their relationship.
Now, while this movie has been valuable lessons for anyone suffering from depression, abruptly stopping medication without consulting a doctor is not among them. You should under no circumstances consider pulling the same stunt as Largeman. Things worked out OK for him, but there’s no guarantee of that result when you suddenly stop taking antidepressants or mood stabilizers.
2) Prozac Nation
Prozac Nation is a 2001 movie based on Elizabeth Wurtzel’s 1994 memoir of the same name. The book was originally titled I Hate Myself and I Want to Die, which should give you an accurate view of the way the author was feeling due to the crippling weight of depression.
In the movie adaptation, Christina Ricci stars and portrays how the author coped with atypical depression during her first year at Harvard on a journalism scholarship.
Wurtzel’s depression stemmed at least partially from a chaotic upbringing and the awkward relationship with her mother, played in the movie by Jessica Lange. Wurtzel has also been estranged from her father for four years, another contributory factor to her underlying depression.
The movie was not critically praised, but don’t let that put you off. We feel that the allegations that the book and movie were “exasperatingly sympathetic” with the protagonist “filled with narcissistic pride” were in all probability leveled by people with no direct experience of depression.
We feel this is one of the most crucial lessons of Prozac Nation: just because you’re growing up in the US in the 1970s and attending an ivy league college, that doesn’t mean you’re immune to a condition like depression. Perhaps you’ve been feeling guilty that you’re feeling down when everything looks so good on paper. Don’t feel guilty. Get help instead. Call a mental health treatment center or addiction hotline today.
The author of the book sadly died from complications due to breast cancer in 2020.
3) World’s Greatest Dad
Mental illness still carries a certain stigma, and this often leads to people with depression being treated without much compassion. When someone with depression commits suicide, though, the sympathy and compassion that follows are too little, too late.
Robin Williams, the actor playing the protagonist Lance Clayton, famously committed suicide in 2014, another victim of depression who seemingly had the world at his feet.
In World’s Greatest Dad, we are told the story of a failed author and high school teacher. Clayton is dating a woman who doesn’t want their relationship made public knowledge. His son, Kyle, despises him and spends his time doing very little but obsessing over pornography.
Lance finds his son died from an autoerotic asphyxiation accident. Clayton decides to arrange the body so it appears as Kyle hung himself. The fake yet poetic suicide note Lance writes to avoid the embarrassment that would otherwise have ensued claims the suicide was due to depression.
The powerful message in this film is that Clayton is really the one suffering from depression. This is what helped him to write such an authentic and convincing note. Ironically, the community that once pilloried Kyle as an underachieving loser now praises him as a talented poet blighted by the scourge of mental illness.
Sylvia is a 2003 movie exploring the real-life romance between the famous poets Silvia Plath and Ted Hughes.
Plath was renowned for writing about her depression, and you are treated to snippets of her poignant poems throughout the narrative.
Like many people suffering from depression, the trauma of her father suddenly dying before she went to college. When she arrived at Smith College through a literary scholarship, her first bouts of depression kicked in. Surviving a suicide attempt in her junior year, Plath went on to win a Fulbright Scholarship enabling her to attend Cambridge University.
Plath meets Hughes at a party. They fall in love, marry and head to Plath’s mother in Massachusetts. Teaching at Smith College, all seems well for a time.
When the couple return to England, Plath feels she is living in her husband’s professional shadow. After correctly accusing Hughes of infidelity, Plath kicks him out of the family home and starts writing poetry in earnest. These form the posthumous collection Ariel.
The action ends with Plath committing suicide, her poems left in manuscript form on the desk.
While the movie may well provide solace for anyone struggling with depression, Frieda Hughes (the couple’s daughter) feels the movie profited from her mother’s pain.
5) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a 2004 cult classic starring Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey.
Carrey plays the role of Joel, a man who is detached and withdrawn emotionally. He embarks on a relationship with Clementine, a free spirit.
The pair fight and Joel learn that Clementine has had all her memories of him erased. Devastated, he decides the only solution is to attempt the same procedure.
The bulk of this movie takes place inside Joel’s mind as he battles to preserve his fading memories of Clementine. The result is a movie that may be set in the near-future, but is an unerringly accurate and realistic portrayal of one man’s descent into the abyss of depression.
Despite the film’s dark material, the action ends with Joel and Clementine meet again and agreeing to give things another go, so ultimately there’s a positive message ideal for anyone who thinks there is no end to depression and no hope of a better future.
6) Little Miss Sunshine
A tragicomic 2006 American road movie, Little Miss Sunshine sees a loving but dysfunctional family taking a trip in their bright yellow VW van.
The quirky characters are what brings this movie to life. Sherryl Hoover is a mother of two, overworked already and further burdened by her gay brother living with the family after a failed suicide attempt. Husband Richard is a failed life coach, while his father was evicted from his senior community for snorting heroin. Edwin is also now living with the family.
Family tensions undercut this movie and you’re treated to a first-class portrayal of the challenges of living with someone suffering from mental illness.
This is another movie that plumbs the depths of sadness yet managed to impart an overwhelmingly positive message of hope.
7) The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Perks of a Wallflower is a 2012 coming-of-age movie written and directed by Stephen Chbosky. The film was based on Chbosky’s 1999 novel.
Following the life of Charlie, an introverted and socially awkward teenager, we see this overlooked wallflower bloom when he is befriended by a couple of seniors who show him the simple joys of music and friendship.
At the same time, Chbosky is inspired by one of his teachers to start writing.
Over the course of this movie, we see Charlie come undone as he confronts past events, trying to suppress them. Moving yet undercut with humor, The Perks of Being a Wallflower beautifully captures the highs and lows of teenage life. For anyone finding it hard to establish their place in the world, this film will be illuminating and educational.
8) Girl, Interrupted
Girl, Interrupted is based on a true story, a memoir of the same name written by Susanna Kaysen. The author and protagonist of the movie attempted suicide and spent the following 18 months in a psychiatric unit for young women. The movie is set in the late sixties.
While in the psychiatric ward, Susanna (Winona Ryder) is still struggling to cope with her suicidal feelings and life in general. She is diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder.
Susanna befriends a welter of colorful characters including the wildly unpredictable Lisa, wonderfully played by Angelina Jolie.
This movie takes in a variety of mental illnesses, giving you an insight into more than just straightforward clinical depression. From schizophrenia and self-harming to anorexia and pathological lying, the characters of Girl, Interrupted present with a wide range of mental conditions.
Not only is the action delivered authentically, but it’s also done in an enlightening way with a strong emphasis on the importance of friendship during any form of recovery.
In the 2014 drama Cake, we follow the life of Claire (played by Jennifer Aniston) as she struggles to manage the chronic pain she experienced after losing her son in a car crash.
Despite Claire’s attempts to deal with her depression through a combination of therapy and medication, she seems to find complaining and suppressing her emotions are the best ways of coping.
When a member of her support group commits suicide, Claire becomes obsessed with this and ends of experiencing psychosis. Patterns of denial start cropping up, a common theme in many addictions and mental conditions.
The movie finishes up with Claire understanding that she needs to confront her past rather than running from it. This is a moving and instructional film for anyone grappling with depression.
Although Her is not a movie that explicitly deals with depression, the theme is addressed indirectly through the isolated and lonely life of the protagonist, Theodore, coming to terms with a protracted divorce from his childhood sweetheart.
Socially awkward, Theodore develops a relationship with his artificially intelligent virtual assistant, a role deftly played by Scarlet Johansson.
Action is set in near-future Los Angeles. Theodore works writing personal letters for people unable to properly express their emotions.
Theodore also embarks upon a brief relationship in the real world, but this soon implodes and his love interest, Catherine, is appalled when he admits to falling in love with his AI.
Throughout the movie, Theodore is confronted by flashbacks, and he spends most of his time playing video games alone.
Spike Jonze’s screenwriting debut is an examination of the true meaning of love, but beneath this are many important lessons for anyone finding it hard to integrate with society due to depression.
11) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a black comedy detailing the story of Mildred Hayes, a woman suffering from grief and depression as a result of her daughter’s murder.
Hayes is played brilliantly by Francis McDormand. She pays for the titular billboards intending to shame the small town’s chief of police into taking more aggressive action to solve the homicide.
As Hayes goes up against Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), she finds a man fighting against a troubling medical diagnosis of his own.
Critically acclaimed and winning multiple awards, this is a telling and piercing examination of depression and coping.
12) The Royal Tenenbaums
The Royal Tenenbaums is a Wes Anderson movie with a star-studded cast and a cult following.
Charting a family history of depression impacting all members in tragic (and occasionally hilarious) ways. The three siblings all enjoyed enormous childhood success followed by a string of failures and disappointments in adulthood.
This is a meta-fest with the action supposedly based on a non-existent novel, and a must-watch for anyone finding depression getting them down.
Gene Hackman earned an Academy Award for his portrayal of Royal Tenenbaum.
Why Movies About Depression Matter
Depression does not discriminate. This condition affects any age group, although in recent years we have witnessed a spike in depression among teens and young adults.
In many ways, social media plays a part in the increase in depression among teens. Being constantly barraged by a highlight reel of the supposed achievements of others can be challenging for young people still finding their feet in the world.
Ultimately, the reasons for depression are not as important as seeking treatment. A serious obstacle to people getting the help they need is the way depression is so often stigmatized. Many people fear being labeled and put off getting the help they need even when their lives are unraveling and becoming unmanageable.
Movies about depression can be beneficial for anyone hesitant about seeking help. Watching others undergo treatment and seeing what’s involved can often be enough to prompt someone to call their doctor and start exploring their depression more fully.
Do films imitate life or is it the other way around? Either way, there is no shortage of movies about depression and we hope our curated list helps you find the inspiration you need.
What can you do if you feel you’re ready to embark on treatment for depression, then?
Depression Treatment at Renaissance Recovery
Here at Renaissance Recovery, we offer a personalized program to help you work your way through a depressive episode and to rekindle the joy in life. If you have a co-occurring addiction to alcohol or drugs, our qualified therapists will address this simultaneously. We have locations spread around Southern California and can help anyone looking for an Orange County rehab and surrounding areas including Laguna Beach, Seal Beach, and more.
Get in touch today by calling our addiction hotline today and we’ll help you formulate the most effective treatment plan for the depression getting you down. Don’t do this alone. Call us today at 866.330.9449.