One of the most powerful ways I know to understand depression is to watch movies about people trying to live with it.
There’s nothing so compelling and moving as listening to the words and seeing the faces of folks who are struggling to tell their stories in front of a camera.
If you’ve lived through depression, you’ve likely felt exactly what these people describe. Watching someone else open up can be hard, but I’ve found it healing to relive those emotions with them.
If you’re trying to understand depression to find out what your loved ones are going through, you’ll see and feel the effects of all the symptoms you may know only from dry clinical terms. Here is how depression takes apart a life, how it breaks up families, how it kills.
I’ve put together a list of documentaries that manage to get inside the illness. They convey useful information about recent research, but, for the most part, they let people tell their own stories with minimal commentary from the experts.
Here are five that I’ve found most helpful.
The Misunderstood Epidemic: Depression. This remarkable film captures more about depression in one hour than I had thought possible. The stories it presents cover an unusual variety of social experience, age and cultural values. Some of them are hard to watch – especially two about the suicides of a 12-year old boy and a 19-year old girl. Others hit close to home for me – like that of the woman who almost wrecked her marriage in trying to escape her depression. If you can only watch one film, this is it.
Depression: Out of the Shadows. A high-powered CEO, a well-known writer, a teenager preparing for college, a young mother with postpartum depression and an ex-member of the Bloods are among those who tell their stories in this two-hour film. There’s also a segment on Terrie Williams, a survivor of depression and advocate for young people trying to break out of inner city life. (You can find an interview with her at the PBS website.) Watching what these people are going through is a powerful experience.
This Emotional Life. Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, narrates this three-part, 6-hour PBS series on three broad areas of emotional experience: the central role of relationships in well-being, the struggles with anxiety, anger and depression and the effort to achieve well-being and happiness. The segment on depression in the second part of the series takes on added significance as part of this overall story on the basic human drive to lead a satisfying life. That comes down to hard life in the ordeal of one Vietnam veteran who found relief only recently from the PTSD and depression that broke up his life for more than 30 years. If you’re not up for six hours of leisurely PBS documentary, you can go to Part 2 on the obstacles to happiness and get right to the depression stories.
Men Get Depression. There aren’t many films or books that look closely at men with depression. This is a good one. The interviews bring out the experience of depressed men in many walks of life. Though more and more prominent men have been willing to talk openly about their illnesses, too many men hide depression along with their other deepest emotions and don’t look for help. They often don’t even think they’re depressed because all they can feel is anger. That hits their families the hardest. This film captures this quite well and gives a lot of dramatic examples of how the men in these interviews finally understood what was happening and started to heal.
Lincoln. A couple of years ago, I read a great book by Joshua Shenk called Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness. I found it compelling both for its portrayal of Lincoln’s intense struggle with depression and its rich discussion of the treatments and ideas about the illness that Lincoln would likely have been familiar with. This documentary also focuses on Lincoln’s depression and argues that his inner struggle shaped many of his decisions as President. Of course, there’s controversy about this approach, but the film tells the story well.
Have any of these films helped you? Do you have others to suggest? Please do! This list is only a starter for a new movie resource page, so let us know.