Movies About Depression that Accurately Capture the Experience
Depression is real, it’s common, and it can affect people from all walks of life. Statistics show that an estimated 21 million American adults have experienced depression—making it the leading cause of disability.
Unfortunately, the disorder is still plagued by stigmas, with some viewing depression as a sign of weakness or a lack of willpower. Such societal barriers can prevent people with depression from seeking the help they need—with serious consequences, including over 45,000 suicide deaths, according to the CDC.
An effective way to combat the stigma of depression is by raising awareness of the mental health disorder through compelling films.
Indulging in depression movies helps affected people understand what they’re going through and how to healthily cope with it in a relatable manner. At the same time, a good movie can help dispel the public’s discriminatory or negative attitudes about depression.
Understanding Depression – What is Depression?
Feelings of hopelessness, grief, and sadness are a normal part of the human experience. But when these negative moods don’t improve as the situation changes or after a few days, there’s a possibility of diagnosable depression.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a major depressive episode is defined as ”a period of at least two weeks when a person experienced a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities, and had a majority of specified symptoms.” These symptoms include a low sense of self-worth, sleeping problems, difficulty concentrating, unusual irritability, fatigue, eating problems, and even thoughts of suicide.
There’s no single cause of depression. Experts suggest it’s the combination of several factors—including trauma, chronic conditions, a history of mental illness, and substance abuse (between 12% and 80% of patients with substance use disorders experience depression).
Learn More: High Functioning Depression
Top 9 Movies About Depression
Please note: This list is not about the critical acclaim or rating of the filmmaking. We choose these depression movies based on how well they depict the mental illness in a way that provides the best insights into the experience of depression.
Here’s our recommendation of depression movies to add to your ‘watch later’ list:
1. World’s Greatest Dad (2009)
This is not for the faint of heart! Few movies about suicidal depression reach into the depth of your heart with a moving story to the tune of World’s Greatest Dad.
The thought-provoking drama follows the story of Lance Clayton (played by Robin Williams), a high school poetry teacher. After the death of his son in an autoerotic asphyxiation accident, Clayton makes it appear as if he committed suicide to avoid embarrassment. To this end, he crafts a beautifully poetic suicide note for his son, blaming his supposed suicide on depression.
The suicide note—which was convincing because Clayton drew inspiration from his own experience of depression—ends up receiving adulation from peers. The movie further hits home, considering Robin Williams struggled with depression in real life.
2. Melancholia (2011)
Dubbed “the greatest film about depression ever made” by some, Melancholia is a masterpiece for its compassionate and visceral depiction of depression.
The Lars Von Trier film may be about the end of the world—with a planet (aptly named Melancholia) on a collision path with Earth—but the more nuanced message is that of depression’s destructive power.
A New York Times article describes Melancholia as a movie that artistically captures the “acute anguish and the paralyzing hollowness of depression.”
3. A Star is Born (2018)
A Star is Born is a depression movie that underlines the challenge of co-occurring disorders.
Jackson Maine (played by Bradley Cooper) is a music star with an untreated mental illness and a substance abuse disorder.
As characteristic of comorbid disorders, Maine turns to alcoholism and drug abuse as an attempt to drown the mental pain of his depression—until he can no longer cope.
4. Cake (2014)
Several risk factors may contribute to depression.
Cake, starring Jennifer Aniston, is a heart-wrenching movie that highlights how grief from the loss of a loved one, chronic pain, and disability can lead to a feeling of hopelessness and severe depression.
5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the best coming-of-age movies about suicidal depression. It narrates the story of the socially awkward teen in his search for a sense of belonging.
Charlie (played by Logan Lerman) is forced to bear the burden of profound changes in his life, including the loss of his best friend to suicide and the anxiety of trying to fit in.
6. It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010)
It’s Kind of a Funny Story earns a spot in our list of must-watch depression movies primarily due to its relatability to most people.
Craig (played by Keir Gilchrist) gradually falls into depression—not because of a traumatic experience or chronic conditions, but from a fear of failure despite his relatively good life.
7. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums is as raw, dark, and intense as movies about depression can get.
It follows a dysfunctional family of depressed siblings (Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Luke Wilson) who peaked in their youth.
Don’t expect sugar coating or subtlety with this film.
8. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Depression is a complex and dynamic system that often impacts the entire family. Little Miss Sunshine is a delightfully-quirky and dark comedy that accurately captures this reality.
The movie tells the story of a dysfunctional family where most members are dealing with a form of depression that is only exacerbated by their outbursts.
The only exception is the youngest daughter, Olive—who they view as a ray of light that brings some positivity into their lives.
9. WandaVision (2021)
Technically this is not a movie but a TV show.
But we felt it should feature on this list of depression movies because of how deep it explores bereavement and how the tragic experience can lead someone into a path of depression without healthy coping mechanisms.
Other Movies About Depression
A list of other depression movies worth a watch.
- The Skeleton Twins (2014)
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
- Anomalisa (2015)
- Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
- Garden State (2004)
- Inside Out (2015)
- Palm Springs (2020)
- Helen (2009)
- Prozac Nation (2001)
- Numb (2007)
- The Hours (2002)
- Manchester By the Sea (2016)
- Lilting (2014)
- Requiem for a Dream (2000)
- What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
- Mad Love (1995)
- Mary and Max (2009)
- Sylvia (2003)
Treatments for Depression
Think of these movies about depression as a stepping stone to change the narrative around mental health stigmas. Educating people on the experience of depression is great. But awareness is only the first step to combating the issue.
You don’t have to bear the weight of the condition alone. Depression is treatable, and help is available! If you suspect you (or a loved one) is suffering from depression, support from trained professionals can make a big difference in your health and life outlook. And if there are thoughts of self-harm, reach out to:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 800-273-8255 or use the Lifeline Chat on the website
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741