Depression Movies: Can Watching Films About Depression Help Me/My Partner Understand My Condition?

Updated November 24, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Audrey Kelly, LMFT

If you are one of the 16 million people in the United States diagnosed with depression, you may struggle to explain your condition to your partner. Depression is an illness that not many people understand unless they live through it. Although living with mental illness is still stigmatized in the media, several films accurately portray it is like to live with depression. These movies can help you open a dialogue with your partner about your condition, and they can also be a cathartic experience for yourself.

Understanding Depression

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If you or your partner struggles with depression, it is important to know that the condition presents differently in every person. There are several diagnoses of depression, which have a unique set of symptoms. Generally, depression is an overwhelming sadness that is much different from the normal grief someone would feel during significant life transitions, such as over the loss of a loved one or the end of a relationship. These chronic “low” periods interfere with your daily functioning, making it challenging to carry out everyday tasks.

Depending on your age and sex, the signs of depression are visible but different. The condition is much more common in women than men, but male partners with depression are not rare. Men with depression may act out, showing irritable or angry behavior, while women are more likely to feel extreme guilt and overwhelming sadness. These characteristics combine with the general symptoms of depression.

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Sleep disturbance (either insomnia or sleeping too much)
  • Feeling sad, guilty, or worthless.
  • Finding no joy in activities, you once liked
  • Disrupted concentration
  • Increased fatigue
  • Extended depressive episodes of “low” moods

Types Of Depression

“Depression” is a broader term that describes several specific diagnoses that classify as depressive disorders, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). They include:

  • Bipolar Depression – Those with bipolar disorder will experience high manic states followed by low depressive periods diagnosed as “bipolar depression.”
  • Major Depressive Disorder – a diagnosis in which someone has at least five common depression symptoms for two weeks or longer. These symptoms must interfere with the person’s ability to perform typical daily functions or take pleasure in activities they previously enjoyed for a doctor to make an official diagnosis.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (dysthymia) – a condition that includes major depressive episodes that come and go for more than two years
  • Postpartum Depression – depression that occurs after childbirth. This type of depression is a severe condition in which a parent feels extreme anxiety accompanied by depressive episodes that interfere with their daily lives. While postpartum depression is often associated with mothers, it is crucial to note that this condition can affect any parent, including partners of mothers or adoptive parents.
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) – a more severe version of PMS that causes various psychological and physical symptoms that significantly impair functioning. Several of these symptoms include depressed mood, increased anxiety or irritability, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, etc.
  • Psychotic Depression – a depressive disorder in which a person also experiences hallucinations or delusions
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder – This condition – also known as “winter depression” – only happens during the end of the year. During the winter months, there is less sunlight, which can lead to more depressive episodes. These lows usually subside by the following spring.
  • Depression That Accompanies Another Medical Condition If you or your partner have been diagnosed with another medical condition, depression can be a devastating symptom or side effect. Many reproductive and endocrine disorders may lead to depression. Anyone diagnosed with a medical condition experiences major life changes, which can onset depressive episodes.
  • Adjustment Disorder With Depressed Mood – A period of depression that follows a significant shift in one’s life, such as a death of a loved one, a move to a new city, a new job, or a marriage. Depressive symptoms usually last only a few months, while an individual adjusts to their new circumstances.

Do you need advice on how to help your partner with depression? Are you having difficulty explaining your depression symptoms to your partner? We can help! Click here to speak to one of our licensed counselors.

Social Impact Of Movies

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Never underestimate the power of film: movies create an atmosphere that reading a book or having a conversation will not do. Using well-developed characters, a good score, and plot development, a talented filmmaker completely captures your attention from beginning to end. Good films also help you explore new ideas and situations you have never experienced before.

One of the best ways to support a partner with depression is to plan activities you enjoy together. Many couples enjoy movie nights – whether they go to a cinema or stay home. Watching movies with psychological themes, such as characters who struggle with depression or families impacted by mental illness, are great conversation starters. The film can serve as an avenue to better understand your partner’s own experience with depression.

When they are approached correctly, films on mental illness broaden your understanding of living with depression, helping you empathize with your partner’s experiences. For people diagnosed with depression, you can identify with films that depict characters and situations like yours in a unique way.

Stigmatizing Mental Illness: Movies That Support The Stigma

Even though more people speak out about their struggles with mental health every day, the movie industry is still catching up to the trend. While several good films approach mental illness realistically, many do not. Part of the stigma that surrounds mental illness is how it is presented in the media. Characters with mental disorders are often portrayed as “different” or “weird,” existing on society’s fringes as they struggle with their condition. Horror movies and thrillers are infamous for making mental illness a plot device, using the stereotypical “mad” serial killer as the villain. Many horror films now considered classics – such as The Shining (1980), Psycho (1960), and Halloween (1978) – use mental disorders as the catalyst for the antagonist’s behavior.

Movies written and directed by those who have never experienced depression or mental illness for themselves (and don’t complete the proper research) fail to capture the authentic experience of depression on film. This creates negative portrayals of mental illness, which can be damaging to those who live through it. How you see yourself presented in the media may influence how you start to feel about yourself. These films make those living with depression and other mental illnesses feel like outsiders, which means they may be less likely to seek help.

Best Movies About Depression

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When trying to find a movie that best highlights the realities of living with depression, look for a film that portrays mental illness in a healthy, constructive way. Some movies may highlight experiences you or your partner encounter daily, such as depression symptoms, ongoing therapy, or medical intervention. Stories that will have the most impact depict the effects of a person’s mental illness on their loved ones.

Depending on what you want to understand, many dramas and comedies approach depression in unique ways. While this isn’t a complete list, these movies are some of the best movies about depression.

It’s a Funny Story (2010) – When depressed sixteen-year-old Craig checks himself into a psychiatric hospital, he is placed in the adult ward due to renovations. During his time at the hospital, Craig bonds with several patients, and he realizes the source of his depression is the expectations others have of him. This comedy does an excellent job of depicting the characters as everyday people getting therapy in a hospital setting safely.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) – Diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety since childhood, Charlie’s freshman year of high school doesn’t start well. After his recent release from a psychiatric hospital, his shyness makes it hard for him to socialize with others. Two step-siblings, Sam and Patrick, befriend Charlie, who values their friendship. A romantic attraction between Sam and Charlie – despite their involvements with other people – leads to friction. When Sam and Patrick prepare for graduation and leave for college, Charlie’s depression worsens; through therapy, he realizes his condition stems from repressed memories of sexual abuse.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any abuse, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for support and resources.

Inside Out (2015) – In an interesting take on the nature of memory and emotions, Inside Out is a Disney-Pixar film about how a young girl’s emotions work together – and against each other – to help her process a major life change. Inside Riley’s mind, her primary emotions – Joy, Anger, Fear, Sadness, and Disgust – influence her experiences as they turn into memories. Although Joy tries to keep Sadness away from the inner workings of Riley’s mind, Sadness starts turning all of Riley’s memories into sad ones. As Joy and Sadness struggle to restore balance, Anger, Disgust, and Fear are left in charge of processing Riley’s experiences, which leads her to act out. Inside Out treats the mind as a machine in which the emotions are all connected, and it is a great visual representation of why we feel the way we feel.

Helen (2009) – This film is perfect for spouses and partners of clinical depression because it illustrates the condition’s true nature. Helen Leonard has an ideal life: a well-respected college professor and a talented pianist with a loving husband and daughter. She manages to hide her Major Depressive Disorder for years. This film is not for the faint-hearted: it shows the gritty reality of crippling depressive episodes, including hospitalization and electroshock therapy. Helen also shows the effects of clinical depression on family members who struggle to understand the illness.

Infinitely Polar Bear (2015) – Although this film isn’t specifically about depression, it is an important film about how mental illness affects the family unit. Cameron Stuart’s family life comes crashing down when his undiagnosed bipolar disorder leads to psychosis. He is hospitalized and receives treatment, but his wife Maggie has trouble supporting their daughters alone without a higher degree. When Cam’s wife leaves for graduate school, he is left to care for their two daughters. His severe bipolar disorder symptoms impact his parenting abilities, so his daughters pitch in to help. Infinitely Polar Bear highlights several key elements of mental illness, including how your symptoms affect those around you and the importance of keeping up with treatment.

Good Will Hunting (1997) – Twenty-year-old Will Hunting is the night janitor at MIT with a secret: he is a genius! Unfortunately, Will’s past traumas in foster care torture him; he presents aggressive behaviors typical in males with depression. When Will anonymously solves problems at MIT, Professor Lambeau recognizes his gift. After Will faces an assault charge, Lambeau negotiates a deal to work on mathematical theory as long as he sees a therapist. Will’s relationship with Dr. Sean Maguire is tense at first, but the two men eventually find common ground. Sean helps Will face his demons to form lasting, healthy relationships with those around him and take ownership of his gifts by putting them to good use. Good Will Hunting is a powerful film that addresses the impact of childhood trauma and the importance of seeking treatment.

Numb (2007) -Screenwriter Hudson Milbank’s business partner urges him to get help after noticing that Hudson has lost interest in his surroundings and is physically and emotionally detached. Diagnosed with depersonalization disorder, Hudson enters therapy. His doctors suggest various treatment options, but nothing seems to work until he meets Sara. Hudson finally feels a connection, and he tries to turn his life around. Writer and director Harris Goldberg based this film on his struggles with clinical depression and depersonalization disorder. The film does a fantastic job of documenting what these conditions look and feel like – such as how Hudson doesn’t feel comfortable in his skin and goes to great lengths to “feel” anything. The sexual affair with one of his therapists was unnecessary; overall, it is a moving film that accurately portrays mental illness.

The Hours (2002) – Virginia Woolf experienced a deep depression while writing her novel, Mrs. Dalloway, in Richmond, England, in 1923. In 1951, Laura Brown struggled to find happiness in her picture-perfect life as a wife and mother. As she reads Mrs. Dalloway, she contemplates a way to break free from the suffocation she feels in her daily life. Fifty years later, Clarissa Vaughan plans a party for her friend Richard, but she worries about his mental state as Richard’s depression worsens during his battle with AIDS. These three intertwining stories make up The Hours, touching on chronic depression, bipolar disorder, and other aspects. This film’s excellent dialogue makes it stand out as one to watch – especially Virginia Woolf’s description of her bipolar disorder (which had no name in the 1920s.)

Prozac Nation (2001) – Based on Elizabeth Wurtzel’s best-selling memoir, Prozac Nation details her struggles with depression in her first years at Harvard University. Lizzie Wurtzel is a gifted student and writer, but her troubled childhood left her prone to depression. After her acceptance into Harvard, her substance use and wild behavior fracture her relationships. Lizzie is prescribed Prozac, which helps tone down her antics. Although the film is almost twenty years old, Elizabeth’s long journey from instability to learning how to live with her depression is surprisingly relevant. Although Lizzie does worry that she is becoming too dependent on her prescribed treatment option, her story emphasizes the importance of continuing therapy and medical intervention after receiving a depression diagnosis.

While living with depression is no laughing matter, not all mental illness films are sad and dramatic; they can be funny, too! In the hands of the right storyteller, life with depression can provide excellent comedic inspiration. However, many films do not address the realities of living with depression correctly.

Make sure you do some research by reading reviews and synopses before committing to a film, as watching something that perpetuates harmful stigmas around mental illness will not be productive. Any of the above films would be excellent choices for a movie night with your partner. Studios and film executives are increasingly promoting movies that accurately portray the realities of living with mental illness, so there are more options every day.


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