Mental Health In the Movies: Who Got It Right?

Gone are the days when mental health issues were taboo (something we’re all grateful for), but now that they’re out in the open, we wonder if all the examples of depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders are all painting a realistic picture. To find out who’s getting it right, we spoke with Ryan Howes, Ph.D., a California-based psychologist. Howes explains that, while there are accurate depictions of various mental health issues in pop culture, some aren’t so easy to pin down:

Depression is difficult to define because it’s not one thing but a collection of symptoms that can vary from person to person, male to female, young to old. We’ve all experienced some of the symptoms at points in our life (low energy, guilt or irritability, for example), but the Major Depression diagnosis is only given when there are a number of symptoms that are relatively debilitating and have been present for at least a couple of weeks.

He explains that true, long-term depression isn’t often depicted on-screen, owing to their less plotline-friendly features: “Things like excessive sleeping, fatigue and loss of interest in enjoyable activities doesn’t make for riveting TV,” he says. “Disorders with more visible symptoms like anxiety, OCD and narcissism get more air time.” But there are still writers, producers, and actors providing relatable examples of mental illness in pop culture. “Having said that, there are certainly TV and movie characters who accurately depict depression symptoms, and their stories support various theories for why people become depressed.”

We asked Howes to sound off about the characters, TV shows, and movies that paint mental health in a realistic light. Watch and learn:

Ryan Howes, Ph.D. is a psychologist in Pasadena, California, and writes the In Therapy blog for Psychology Today. Follow him on Facebook and read his blog.


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    • Cristal

      I think the movie Dan in Real Life was a great depiction of living with depression on a daily basis.