Because depressive symptoms have become such a normal part of life for millions of people, it’s no surprise Hollywood has used them as an underlying theme and produced so many films and movies about depression.
Depression is more than just being blue. While quite common, there are different types of depressive disorders that vary in severity, duration and emotional and physical symptoms.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), women are more likely than men to experience these issues, and approximately 7 percent of the population – 16 million American adults – experience at least one major depressive disorder in a given year.
The reason people become depressed is not always clear. Genetics certainly play a factor, but external issues, such as chronic pain, trauma or substance abuse, have the ability to bring on depressive episodes.
Thanks to years of medical research, though, a diagnosis of depression is treatable. A combination of medications, counseling or therapy and cultivating healthy habits usually can help to get people through these hard times.
Public awareness of this mental illness is at an all time high. Though the stigma surrounding depression has not completely disappeared, society has a much better understanding of it. This is in large part, due to popular culture’s tradition of storytelling as a means of education and healing, especially when viewed through the lens of Hollywood’s movies about depression.
Here Are 10 Films and Movies About Depression
1. The Hours
The Hours opened worldwide in 2003 to critical acclaim, with an all-star cast including Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris and Nicole Kidman.
Kidman received an Academy Award for best actress for her portrayal of writer Virginia Woolf, who famously suffered from bipolar disorder and nervous breakdowns.
The story unfolds over one day in three separate years, which the film alternates between. The New York Times heralded the film and said, “Although suicide eventually tempts three of the film’s characters, The Hours is not an unduly morbid film.”
2. The Virgin Suicides
The Virgin Suicides, a breakout film for director Sofia Coppola, hit theaters in 1999 and takes place during the ’70s in Grosse Point, Michigan.
After they’re youngest daughter commits suicide, the parents, played James Woods and Kathleen Turner, keep their four remaining daughters, one of whom is portrayed by Kirsten Dunst, in near isolation that causes more emotional troubles.
The Philadelphia Inquirer noted, “There’s a melancholy sweetness here, a gentle humor that speaks to the angst and awkwardness of girls turning into women…”
3. Prozac Nation
Prozac Nation, based on Elizabeth Wurtzel’s autobiography of the same name, was released in 2001 and stars Anne Heche, Jason Biggs and Christina Ricci, who portrays Elizabeth “Lizzie” Wurtzel in the film.
This movie about depression revolves around Lizzie as she enters Harvard and her battles with major depressive disorder, in part caused by an absent father and a tumultuous relationship with her mother.
The film’s co-writer, Frank Deasy, in an interview with The Guardian, said of the movie, “It’s a truthful depiction of depression.”
4. American Beauty
American Beauty virtually swept the 72nd Academy Awards in 1999, winning Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Direction and a Best Actor award for Kevin Spacey.
Spacey plays the character of Lester Burnham who in the middle of a midlife crisis loses his job, discovers his wife, played by Annette Bening, is cheating on him, and falls in love with his daughter’s best friend, played by Mena Suvari.
The film has been hailed by most in the American press as the best film of 1999.
5. Pink Floyd – The Wall
Pink Floyd – The Wall, now a cult film written by the legendary bassist Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, was released in 1982.
The music driven movie follows the fictional character of Floyd “Pink” Pinkerton, a rocker driven to insanity by the death of his father.
It is one of the most surreal, symbolic and metaphorical expressions of isolation and depression in modern film.
6. Love Liza
Love Liza is a 2002 dramatic comedy, starring Kathy Bates and the now deceased Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays Wilson Joel.
Wilson’s wife, Liza, has recently committed suicide, leaving behind a sealed note that he’s unable to open. Distraught, Wilson begins to “huff” gasoline while his mother-in-law, played by Bates, deals with her own grief over the loss and attempts to help him as best as she can.
Vanity Fair said the film “tackled depression and substance abuse in a dark-as-hell comedy that takes on an additional layer of sadness [after Hoffman’s death].”
7. The Perks of Being A Wallflower
The Perks of Being A Wallflower is a 2012 film based on a novel of the same name.
The movie stars Emma Watson, Ezra Miller and Logan Lerman, who plays the somewhat awkward and depressed character of Charlie. The three teens strike up a relationship, but after an unsuccessful attempt to kiss Sam at a party, Watson’s character, Charlie isolates himself from the group and sinks into depression.
Both MTV and US Weekly named The Perks of Being a Wallflower among the best films of that year.
8. I Smile Back
Sarah Silverman stars as Laney Brooks in the 2015 film I Smile Back, an upper middle class wife and mother that appears to have it all.
As the story unfolds, however, it’s revealed that Laney’s lingering childhood issues and destructive behavior have led to depression and substance abuse that threaten everything she loves about her current life.
The film garnered Silverman a Screen Actor’s Guild nomination for outstanding performance by a female actor in a leading role.
9. Side Effects
Side Effects is a 2013 psychological thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh and an impressive cast of actors – Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jude Law and Rooney Mara.
After several suicide attempts, Emily Taylor, played by Mara, is prescribed Ablixa, a fictional antidepressant. Though she seems to improve, Emily experiences side effects, such as sleepwalking, that lead to a deadly turn of events.
The Guardian called the film “a gripping psychological thriller about big pharma and mental health that cruelly leaves you craving one last fix.”
10. Ordinary People
Ordinary People came out in 1980 and was the first film directed by Robert Redford.
With Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland, Judd Hirsch and Timothy Hutton rounding out the cast, the story follows the struggles of a family in a suburb of Chicago after one of their sons dies in boating accident.
The film received six Academy Awards and five Golden Globes, and a review from Roger Ebert referring to the movie as “one of the year’s best films, probably of a decade.”
Movies About Depression Can Be Helpful
Hollywood storytelling has played a vital role in popular culture for over a century and it continues to not only discuss what is happening in society, but also to shape it at the same time.
Because more than 7 percent of the U.S. population will experience a major depressive disorder in any given year, movies about depression can act as a therapeutic resource for those dealing with this all too common mental health issue.
Some people may see similarities in their own life with the characters portrayed on the screen and relate to the symptoms. This can be helpful for them to realize they are not alone and depression affects many people.
Others may realize they need help, and that mental illness is a treatable condition. If watching a film or movie about depression can get more people into treatment, it will all be worth it.
Hopefully, these films will allow this segment of the population to understand there is no shame in having a mental health condition and it will lessen the stigma associated with mental illness.