Movies About Depression May Help People Understand The Illness Better

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster, LPC
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Depression is a common mental illness that affects more than 280 million people across the globe. However, stigmas about mental health may cause those who live with it or people in their lives to misunderstand the symptoms and causes. 

Additionally, stigmas and lack of information may deter people from getting the help they need. For that reason, some movies and TV shows have attempted to help the public understand depression and other mental conditions through story-telling. 

Getty/AnnaStills
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Depression may be commonly misunderstood 

Mental health conditions such as depression can affect brain chemistry, behavior, and mood. While depression may affect everyone differently, it is a commonly experienced condition. Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States and affects approximately 8.4% of American adults

Many of these individuals may try to understand what makes them feel unhappy, unmotivated, or exhausted. While some understand that they are depressed, you may not fully understand why you're experiencing symptoms. This reaction can be normal, and there are methods of learning more about the condition. 

Signs of depression

The signs of depression can vary. They may not be obvious, and the symptoms might manifest as feeling like you've changed or are unable to "function" how you used to. You might also experience the following: 

  • Chronic fatigue, no matter how much sleep you get
  • Lack of interest in favorite activities
  • Forgetting information 
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Feeling "foggy" or "out of it"
  • Sleeping less or more than usual
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Experiencing a lack of energy or feeling "run-down"
  • Prolonged sadness 
  • Feeling regularly anxious or stressed
  • Thoughts of harming yourself 
  • Suicidal thoughts or urges* 

The media may sometimes release TV shows and movies about depression. Often, these films depict suicidal thoughts, urges, or behaviors. 

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in young adults and adolescents, and depression is the leading cause of suicide. Therefore, the media may try to spread awareness about these topics by showing depictions of possible scenarios. However, you do not have to watch a film if it feels triggering, upsetting, or offensive. 

Types of depression

There are different diagnostic labels under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V) category for depression. Understanding the different types of depression and your diagnosis (if you have been diagnosed) can be valuable in obtaining proper treatment. 

The types of depression include:

  • Major depression: Major depressive disorder is a common depressive disorder characterized by having at least five symptoms of depression from the DSM-5.
  • Persistent depressive disorder (PDD): Persistent depressive disorder is major depression that continues most days for at least two years.
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD): Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a form of depression, mood changes, and distressing symptoms that occur one to three weeks before a menstrual period.
  • Bipolar depression: Bipolar depression is often referred to as manic depression and is characterized by periods of hyperactivity or mania alternating with periods of severe and sometimes debilitating depressive episodes.
  • Postpartum depression: Postpartum depression is a severe type of depression that affects some new biological or adoptive parents of any gender.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression due to a change in season or weather. 
Getty/AnnaStills

Causes of depression

Although there is no known "cause of depression," there are potential risk factors and commonalities. For example, those assigned females at birth may be more likely to be diagnosed. 

Some other commonalities or risk factors could include: 

  • Previous history of a mental health condition
  • Mental illness in the family (genetics)
  • Environmental factors like poverty, trauma, or abuse*
  • Hormone imbalances, in the case of premenstrual dysphoric disorder 
  • A chemical imbalance in the brain
  • Lack of sunlight, in the case of seasonal affective disorder
  • Medical disorders such as heart disease, cancer, or Parkinson's
  • Certain medications

Movies and shows about depression

As mental health becomes more destigmatized, the movie industry may portray more characters experiencing mental health conditions or symptoms. The portrayal of these mental health conditions in movies may be accurate, respectful, and thoughtful, or poorly researched and outdated.

Some movies that portray depression have portrayed those experiencing depression as alone in the world, trying to process their feelings on their own. Others have followed people trying to fight depression while those around them tell them it is "all in their head." 

These examples may be analogous to a fraction of the real-life experiences of those with depression but are among the best movies and shows depicting the struggle with this mental health condition. Mental health can be an individual experience, and having healthy and mature discussions about mental health may be beneficial after watching one of the following shows or movies. 

Please be advised that the media listed may be triggering to some viewers. Watch with discretion. 

13 Reasons Why

An often-publicized series about teenage depression is the 2017 Netflix miniseries "13 Reasons Why," based on a young adult novel by Jay Asher in 2007. This dramatic and potentially heartbreaking story is about Hannah Baker, a high school student with depression who commits suicide but leaves recorded tapes about what she considers to be the 12 people involved in the reasons why she took her life. 

The series was criticized as hyperrealistic in its portrayal of suicide, and many worried it would encourage suicide. However, the movie encouraged many people to engage in discussions surrounding mental health. Some viewers may have felt that the show portrayed the realities of depressive symptoms. 

Little Miss Sunshine

Another movie about mental health is the film "Little Miss Sunshine," which includes a portrayal of depression that could be described as lighthearted and infused with humor. The story revolves around a young girl whose dysfunctional family all develop some type of depression except for her. 

Even though the movie includes serious subjects such as suicide and abuse, the general feeling of the film centers on optimism and humor that may appeal to some living with depression. Those who live with depression may benefit from this movie by seeing how families can depend on each other when needed. Those unfamiliar with the disorder might see the subtle and not-so-subtle symptoms of depression.

The Silver Linings playbook

This rom-com was a Toronto International Film Festival favorite when it premiered in 2012 and won 47 awards. It’s a deep and funny story that focuses on Pat Solitano, a teacher who is released from a psychiatric hospital following treatment for bipolar disorder. Pat is seeking to reconcile with his ex-wife, who left him after the episode that incited his stay at the hospital, but she’s placed a restraining order against him, leading him to find ways to prove he’s in a better place. His attempts to get back in her life have him on the edge of depression and anxiety until he meets Tiffany, a woman who’s also experiencing her own symptoms of depression after the death of her husband.

The two bond and find each other relatable when they realize their common struggles with mental health and how they cope with their symptoms. While Tiffany wants a relationship with Pat, he’s still convinced that he can win his ex-wife back and keeps her at arm’s length. When Tiffany offers to “talk” to his ex-wife in exchange for entering a dance competition Pat agrees, leading to them getting closer to each other over the course of the movie. This leads to kind of a funny back-and-forth between Tiffany and Pat as they prepare together with a rigorous regimen.

The Silver Lining’s Playbook shows some of the serious sides of depression and mental health conditions people experience while playing within the realms of a rom-com. Pat tells everyone that he’s looking for the silver lining in every moment while experiencing emotional outbursts, depression over losing his wife to his mental health condition, and overwhelming anxiety at his situation. Tiffany is a woman navigating a world without her husband, coping with her loss through casual sex and drinking while trying to reconnect with meaning in her life. It shines a light on the messy side of managing mental health that many people experience through the lens of two people overcoming their struggles as they fall in love with each other.

Other media and movies depicting depression 

If you are living with diagnosed depression or experiencing symptoms of depression, watching a validating film may improve your mood or help you communicate your symptoms to families. 

While you should talk to a mental health professional if you are experiencing symptoms of depression, you may not feel comfortable just yet. Watching an enjoyable movie could help you prepare to take the next steps. 

Inside Out

The 2015 animated movie "Inside Out" portrays sadness and may also be a comforting film to watch. The bright color animations may make it seem tailored for kids, but adults and older individuals may find something to think about and talk about. This movie is about the personification of different emotions in a young girl's mind, which include disgust, fear, anger, sadness, and joy. 

Each emotion is depicted as a character, and they are shown working together to help the young girl adjust to complex life changes. It shows how each emotion may take over at times within the mind. 

The film emphasizes that negative feelings such as sadness and anger, especially during adolescence, are normal but that joy can still be found. Further, it encourages the audience to talk about their emotions so that negative feelings do not become a persistent pattern.

If Depression Were A Monster

If you are looking for a short movie about depression, there is a film without words called "If Depression Were a Monster" by BFMP. This two-minute video may communicate more about depression than full-length and fully scripted movies. It goes through 24 hours of a young woman's life with a life-sized blue plush monster following her around that represents her depression. 

The monster shows how it might feel to have a burden following you through life. In one of the scenes, it shows another person with a monster who also has depression, and another has the monster giving the woman glasses of alcohol to drink to try to make it go away. This video can be a symbolic portrayal of depression that can help people visualize what it feels like to live with the condition.

A Day In The Life Of Depression

This short video is narrated by Wentworth Miller, who opens up about his struggle with depression. In "A Day in the Life of Depression," the inner thoughts of some people living with depression are given voice to express how they are feeling inside. 

In less than two minutes, you can hear the internal monologues of all these individuals. You might relate to the messages. In the end, Miller encourages those with depression to seek help.

Getting help for depression

Miller brings up the idea of reaching out for help when experiencing depression. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or any other mental health condition or symptoms, contact a mental health professional for help.

You may find a therapist in your area or reach out to a counselor online. According to recent research, online therapy sessions are as effective as in-person therapy for depression. They can help enhance patient self-management in a comfortable, cost-effective, and convenient way for the individual.

Through an online platform like BetterHelp, you may be matched with a therapist who suits your preferences within 48 hours. Seeking support online can be beneficial if you struggle to leave home while depressed. 

Counselor reviews for depression treatment

Here are some testimonials from individuals who saw benefits from using BetterHelp:

“Laurie is helping me to take control of structures and routines in my life to help me overcome anxiety, PTSD, and manage my major depression. I have never been so pleased with a counselor as I am with her. Her first step with me was to ask about my sleep- which I have been waiting for a doctor to ask me about for years (instead of a ‘here try this pill’- her strategy is, ‘let’s begin at square one’)... Laurie is logical, rational, smart, warm and understanding. I love working with her and feel her support in my corner because she always chats me back in a timely manner. I am truly so grateful for her guidance and care.”

Are you seeking a better understanding of depression?

“Darlyn has changed my life in a very short amount of time. I had never participated in counseling before, but with Darlyn’s support, I went from feeling stuck and anxious to having courage to initiate changes in my life, both minuscule and drastic. She offers incredible perspective and asks great thought-provoking questions. Chatting with her via messaging and our weekly sessions has become a great support system and I would 10/10 recommend her to everyone I know.”

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Takeaway

Depression is a common mental health disorder, affecting over 8% of American adults and over 322 million people worldwide. Each person may experience depression differently, and many medically recognized types of depression can result in varying symptoms and experiences. 

Watching media that you relate to may be one way to connect with your symptoms and learn more about your condition. Be aware that media may be triggering. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, consider reaching out to a counselor for professional support and guidance. 

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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