7 Depictions Of Depression In Film That Are Actually Accurate

Clinical depression is a misunderstood affliction, and one whose understanding is seldom aided by popular media. This is unfortunate in its own right, but especially because major depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in America. The National Institute for Mental Health reported that16 million people over age 18 “had at least one major depressive episode in [2012].”

That’s 6.9% of adults. Chances are that you either know someone who has struggled with depression or you have had episodes yourself at one point or another. Depression is strange; in some people, it can appear and stick around for several months, then seemingly vanish, never to be seen again. Others have chronic depression and need constant, sometimes lifelong treatment, which at this time usually consists of medications and/or talk therapy.

Movies don’t always succeed when it comes to acting out mental illness. This is a list of films that actually did it right. To set the scene, the video above presents a startling depiction of a real-life young woman’s fight with depression, among other mental disorders.

The Hours

This scene from “The Hours” rings true in its portrayal of Virginia Woolf writing her suicide note and then walking into the river. Nicole Kidman is spot on in this role. Here, she shakes as she writes and wears a blank expression, which in psychological terms is called flat affect.


“Melancholia” was part of a trilogy that Lars von Trier directed. Overall, they are metaphors for depression, but they also include characters that are struggling with the illness. In this scene, Kirsten Dunst’s character shows us one of depression’s traits, the inability to enjoy that which you once loved. She is served her favorite meal, but cannot taste it.

Ordinary People

“Ordinary People” was a groundbreaking film that delved deeper into the topic than any other movie that preceded it. It shows us a family dealing with one son’s death and the surviving son’s depression.

An Angel At My Table

A quirky film, “An Angel at My Table” is based on three memoirs by the New Zealand writer Janet Frame, who at one point in the film is institutionalized. In this scene, though, we see Janet reacting quite badly indeed to pressure at her job. This inability to cope with stressors is another hallmark of depression.

Synecdoche, New York

“Synecdoche, New York” is a very strange film. We can never be quite certain of all the ailments of its main character, Caden, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. But most certainly, one of his problems is depression. This sequence opens the film. The video has been annotated to show how time slips by unnoticed by the characters as they simply go about their morning routine. Depression can have an aspect of time fluidity as well. The depressed person’s mind is so fogged with the illness that they can actually lose time.

A Single Man

“A Single Man” is more about grief than depression. However, this little scene explains how the main character “becomes George.” It’s like the Beatles song, “Eleanor Rigby,” who is “wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door.” For many people, living with depression means going to work wearing a pretend smile.


We’ll end this on a darkly funny note. “Wristcutters: A Love Story” is about a young man who kills himself. After his death, he winds up in a place very much like the one he left, except it’s peopled entirely by others who died by suicide.

Leslie Maryann Neal
Leslie Maryann Neal
Leslie Maryann Neal is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. She received her BA in English from California State University, Long Beach.
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