Sad moments in cinema are as common as triumphant ones, but few movies actually depict depression itself and fewer depict it accurately. We asked some of our resident therapists to see what movies they think do a good job of portraying depression in an accurate and meaningful way.
Here are 15 therapist-approved movies about depression:
1. The Pawnbroker (1964)
This 1964 film features a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz who lost his family and friends in the concentration camps. Now living in New York, he lives bitter and alone while running a pawn shop. Traumatized by his past, he has lost faith in humanity and rebuffs friendship with his assistant until tragedy strikes with local gangs.
2. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Between the bipolar lead and the similarly dispositioned romantic interest, this Academy-award-winning film is considered some of the best modern filmmaking on the subject of mental illness. Depression is often a symptom of bipolar disorder, and Bradley Cooper’s performance delivers all the range that someone struggling with the disorder likely finds themselves in.
3. Good Will Hunting (1997)
It would be difficult to talk about movies on depression without mentioning this Robin Williams and Matt Damon classic. Damon plays an undiscovered genius currently working as a janitor when he solves an incredibly difficult math problem left by a professor. After assaulting a police officer in a heated moment, Damon avoids jail time by agreeing to see a therapist (Williams).
Damon’s journey and Williams’ guidance lead into a moving film about healing past old hurts and allowing yourself to grow past uncertainty.
4. Roma (2018)
Cleo is a live-in housemaid in 1970 Mexico for a middle-class household family. The film follows the family’s impending divorce, Cleo’s surprise pregnancy, and the historic tensions of the Colonial Roma neighborhood in Mexico. The result is a moving and powerful personal story of resilience in the face of uncertainty, and how families aren’t always defined by blood.
Depression isn’t always linked to a singular event – it can just as often be the result of a life lived not as fulfilling as hoped. Roma, in its artistic black and white style, pits the seemingly mundane against the impossibly hopeful chance at a fresh life.
5. The Pianist (2002)
Adrien Brody plays a Jewish musician captured and separated from his family during World War 2. Brody hides in the ruins of Warsaw throughout the war, becoming frail and decrepit as time passes, occasionally playing the piano when time allows. The film is a profound statement on the fact that sometimes surviving is all you can do.
6. Carol (2015)
Carol follows two women in 1950s New York who start a slow relationship while one of them, Carol Aird, goes through a difficult divorce. Amidst the divorce proceedings, Carol learns she may lose custody of her daughter if her sexuality is found, putting a strain on her relationship with Therese.
This film navigates the intersection between mental health and sexuality, affirming that the two are often closely intertwined.
7. Room (2015)
Joy is a 24-year-old captive woman living in a single room with her five-year-old son, Jack, kept hidden by their captive. As the two break free, Joy struggles with depression and anger, often lashing out at her son and her family. Meanwhile, Jack is excited to see the new world but continues to ask when they’ll go back home to the Room again.
Room is a heartbreaking but hopeful journey about mental illness, healing, and finding the will to move on after incredible trauma.
8. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Wherever you may land with your mental illness, you’re likely to find someone to relate to in this tragicomedy film following one dysfunctional family on their way to a beauty pageant. From the suicidal gay brother to the drug-addicted grandfather to the over-worked mother, there’s a lot to unpack in this film. But seeing this family come together for the sake of their youngest, Olive, to give her a chance at becoming Little Miss Sunshine, is worth watching.
9. Ordinary People (1980)
A middle-class suburban family is wracked with tragedy when one of their sons accidentally dies in a boating accident and the other almost commits suicide afterward. The surviving son, Conrad, returns to his family struggling to connect with his estranged family and move past his PTSD from the accident. He especially struggles with his mom, who seemingly preferred her older son over Conrad. The film is also noted for portraying psychiatry in a positive light, as it’s ingrained as part of Conrad’s healing process.
10. The Hours (2002)
In a threefold drama centered on Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway, The Hours follows three women, including Woolf herself, as they go through life and all of its pain, questioning their place in the world and whether they want to remain in it. Woolf’s life alone is a solid subject matter for a film about depression, but the strength of the film is in how mental illnesses are portrayed in all three women with various degrees.
11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a boy named Charlie is dealing with the effects of mental illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. When the movie starts, Charlie has lost his best friend to suicide. Now, he is starting high school and making friends with some older kids.
This coming-of-age story covers topics like anxiety, suicide, trauma, and in-patient care. Nearing the end of the film, Charlie has a series of vivid flashbacks to a sexual assault and a following mental breakdown. After receiving care, he begins to heal and work through his trauma.
12. Pursuit Of Happyness (2006)
The Pursuit of Happyness tells the story of Chris Gardener, a salesman who struggles to provide for his son. Ultimately, both father and son are evicted and forced to live on the streets and in homeless shelters. This is an epic tale of emotional and financial struggle, showing how someone with intense stress, anxiety, and depression overcomes what appear to be insurmountable obstacles with the love and trust of his son.
13. Eat, Pray, Love (2010)
Eat, Pray, Love, based on a book of the same name by Elizabeth Gilbert, is a story of painful divorce, depression, and subsequent self-discovery. After splitting from her husband and experiencing a midlife crisis, the main character takes off on a world-wide journey to “find herself,” stopping along the way in Italy, India, and Bali. In many ways, it is all about the healing properties of resilience, curiosity, and self-love.
14. Anomalisa (2015)
This movie follows the character Michael Stone, an author of motivational books who is actually clinically depressed. One of the main messages of the film is that, sometimes, the people you think have it all together may actually be struggling. Despite being an “expert” on helping people live more fulfilling lives, Stone experiences intense self-hatred and loneliness. Anomalisa attempts to tell the complex, messy story of what it means to be human.
15. Cake (2014)
In Cake, actor Jennifer Aniston portrays a woman – Claire – who suffers with chronic pain, disability, and severe depression. In the movie, she is involved in a car accident that causes her health issues and takes the life of her son. Although the grief and despair feel like they will never end, Claire learns to grapple with her loss and subsequent mental and physical health challenges throughout the movie with encouragement from folks in a mental health support group.
When to See a Therapist for Depression
If you struggle to enjoy the things you used to or find yourself feeling lethargic and despondent constantly, you may be suffering from depression. A therapist can help you navigate your emotions and give you the skills you need to cope. Find a therapist in your area today.