14 Movies About Depression That Accurately Depict What It's Like

Updated April 10, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

When you are depressed, you might seek out just about anything to address the negative feelings and sadness. Some things can make you feel worse, but others may help ease your symptoms. Movies have become a medium where many people with depression have found comfort and solace.

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Research shows that therapy can help with depression

With more than 300 million people experiencing depression worldwide, it is no wonder that many films depict what it is like to experience this mental illness. Some therapists even use “cinema therapy” to help patients cope with depression and aid their healing process.

The benefits of watching films for your mental health

When you are experiencing depression, becoming engrossed in a good film can provide emotional relief and therapeutic benefits.

People with depression can have difficulty avoiding intrusive thoughts or uncomfortable emotions. Films can be a healthy distraction, transporting viewers to a different world and time. They can find comfort in relating to a character going through something similar.

Watching a film can allow people with depression to ground themselves and feel a sense of normalcy. Seeing a character's emotional ups and downs can help them put things in perspective and make sense of their own lives. One study showed that viewers were much happier in the short term after watching a sad and tragic film.

Films with comedic relief can also release endorphins, which help reduce stress, ease mood swings, and produce dopamine, bringing about feelings of pleasure. Laughing intensely for 15 minutes creates effects similar to those produced by exercise for your cardiovascular system. It may also make a person with depression feel less isolated and reduce negative thinking.

Even if you are not experiencing depression, watching films that accurately depict what depression is like can help you understand how to support and care for a loved one who is. It can change your perspective on mental illness, help you gain a more positive outlook, and teach you things about depression you may not have otherwise known.

14 movies about depression that depict what it’s really like

We need films that expand our awareness, break down barriers, and shun misconceptions about depression and mental illness; some movies have done that well. Below are fifteen must-watch movies that accurately depict what it is like, how a person living with it engages with the world, and how the condition affects them.

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind

This cult classic features Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in leading roles and explores the pains and intricacies of relationships. Joel, an emotionally withdrawn man, and Clementine, a free-spirited woman, start a relationship. Most of the film takes place in Joel's mind as he fights to preserve his memories of Clementine and portrays, profoundly and realistically, a man trying to cope with depression, loneliness, and pain.

Melancholia

Deep, dark, and moving, this end-of-the-world drama follows Justine (Kirsten Dunst) on her wedding night. Even though it should be one of the happiest days of her life, she struggles with depression and cannot find any joy in the day. Her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) tries to support her while maintaining a sense of calm as Melancholia, a mysterious blue planet, is on its way to destroying the earth. It is a visually stunning film on family, mourning, and the sense of hopelessness one feels in depression.

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Little Miss sunshine

A young girl and her dysfunctional but loving family take a road trip in their yellow VW bus to get her to a beauty pageant. Filled with drama, dark comedy, and plenty of heart, this film features a range of quirky characters, including Sheryl Hoover, her husband, an unsuccessful self-help coach, and her brother Frank—who is living with depression—played by Steve Carell. Carell's character portrays what it means to live with a mental illness, and the film is ripe with a sense of hope throughout, showing the power of family and embracing your uniqueness.

Girl, interrupted

Based on a true story, this film follows Susanna (Winona Ryder) as she finds herself at a mental institution for young women in the late 1960s. Having trouble coping with her mental illness, she undertakes a tumultuous journey to understand her disorder while getting to know the other women in the institution, including the unpredictable and suggestive Lisa, played brilliantly by Angelina Jolie. This film covers many mental illnesses in a vivid, authentic, and enlightening way while emphasizing camaraderie's importance.

The perks of being a wallflower

Introverted and awkward teenager Charlie is an overlooked wallflower until he is befriended by two free-spirited seniors who help him discover the joys of friendship and music. He is simultaneously inspired by a teacher who sparks his dream of becoming a writer. As the film progresses, Charlie finds himself unraveling and confronting events from his past, which he’d tried to suppress. A beautiful coming-of-age drama that is equally moving and funny, it subtly captures the highs and lows of being a teenager.

Manchester by the sea

This deeply affecting drama follows Lee (Casey Affleck), a janitor, after the death of his older brother. He learns he has become the sole guardian of his brother's son, Patrick, and returns to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea. There, he is confronted with his divorce, the traumatic events that led to it, and the grief he and his young nephew are experiencing. It’s a tragic and touching film that delves into family, grief, loss, and confronting the past.

Inside out

A free-spirited and bright young girl named Riley moves to a new city with her parents and finds that it is not all she expected. This animation takes place mainly in Riley's brain, where her emotions—led by Joy (Amy Poehler)—try to navigate this significant change. She embarks on an adventure toward acceptance with Disgust, Anger, Fear, and Sadness. While it is a Pixar animation film, it deals with deep, complex emotions wonderfully and shows that all feelings are valid and important (even sadness). This is a delightful and heartwarming movie sure to lift anyone's spirits.

It's a funny story

Craig, a 16-year-old student performing well in school and leading a good life, is living with depression. Struggling with inferiority, angst, and low self-esteem, he believes that anything he does will lead to failure and that it will ruin his life. After recognizing this, he checks himself into an adult psychiatric ward where he bonds with the people there, including Bobby, who quickly becomes his mentor, and Noelle, who helps him deal with his unrequited love. This coming-of-age film is confidently told considering its themes and offers a dose of courage, hope, and perspective.

Cake

Cake is a drama film that follows Claire (Jennifer Aniston), who is struggling with chronic pain after losing her son in a car accident. She experiences depression as she tries to deal with her illness through therapy and medication, but she suppresses much of her emotional pain. Eventually, Claire realizes that she needs to confront her mental health concerns—a moving film on chronic pain, grief, and finding acceptance.

Her

Although not explicitly addressing depression, Her superbly explores the loneliness epidemic in the modern age. The film centers around Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a sad and lonely letter writer who is in the final stages of a painful divorce. Confronted with flashbacks, he spends time isolated and playing video games until he purchases an AI operating system named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). They begin to fall in love, and Theodore finds himself unraveling as he confronts doubt, past pains, and the true meaning of love.

It's a wonderful life

This classic Christmas film is more than just one to watch during the holidays. It portrays depression succinctly and shows just how powerful perspective can be. George Bailey is a successful businessman, a loving husband, and an active community representative. However, his world is turned upside down when he doubts his goodness and tries to throw himself off the Brooklyn Bridge. An angel shows him what the world would be like without him; needless to say, he finds that the world needs and appreciates him after all.

If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 988 and is available 24/7.

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Research shows that therapy can help with depression

Numb

Screenwriter Hudson Milbank (Matthew Perry) is successful but chronically depressed. He begins to feel emotionally numb and tries to employ the help of doctors and shrinks, to no avail. Things change, however, when he meets Sara. His love for her motivates him to recover, but not without implications. Numb explores the existential angst many viewers can relate to and the highs and lows of a relationship with someone with a mental illness. According to the film’s director, Harris Goldberg, it was inspired by his battles with depression and depersonalization disorder.

The hours

This drama follows two women (Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore) experiencing depression living in different times and places. They both read Mrs. Dalloway, an acclaimed novel by Virginia Woolf, which the film also follows. These women seek meaning in their lives, bound together by their desires, fears, and doubts. The film delicately explores mental illness and how it affects three generations of women. In the end, viewers are thoughtfully confronted about whether it is better to live for others or for your happiness.

The skeleton twins

Estranged twins Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) are dealing with life challenges that lead them back to each other. Maggie decides to take in her twin brother to live with her, and they embark on exploring their past and how they ended up in such a difficult place. While dealing with depression and indulging in unhealthy coping mechanisms, they eventually learn the importance of family, living truthfully, and accepting each other as they are.

Reaching out for help

Movies can help you feel seen and understood, but if you or someone you love needs help with depression or any other mental health-related concern, you may need to consider online therapy.

With online therapy, you can work with a qualified, vetted mental health professional from your home or anywhere you have an internet connection. You don’t have to worry about commuting to an office or being on a waiting list for an appointment, and you can communicate with your therapist via phone, text, email, or video chat. Research shows that online treatment is also effective, with one review finding that online therapy leads to significant decreases in symptoms of depression and anxiety. To learn more, reach out to a therapist at Regain.

Takeaway

Movies have the incredible power to change hearts, restructure negative beliefs and thought patterns, and help people connect with their most authentic selves. They can serve as a catalyst for profound change in someone's life and can be quite valuable when used as part of a therapeutic healing process to address depression. 

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