Why Do We Romanticize Depression?
It’s not pretty and it’s not fun. Stop.
Seeing depression depicted in movies and TV shows isn’t necessarily rare, but frequently it’s depicted in such a way as to seem "quirky" or even "romantic." Often it’s "cured" by the romantic plot and everyone lives happily ever after.
The truth is that depression is an ugly, gross thing most of the time. Depression is not having the energy to shower, or brush your teeth, or even get out of bed. Depression is eating nothing but cereal for a week because you just don't have the energy to make anything else. Sometimes depression is wanting to die, and sometimes depression is trying to die, but mostly depression is apathy, it’s lethargy, it’s isolating and it’s awful.
As someone who suffers from Major Depressive Disorder (or Clinical Depression), it’s often frustrating and annoying to see depression romanticised in movies and on television, because it’s only helping to spread misinformation and undermines the work being done to try and help people understand the seriousness of mental health problems.
Films like Silver Linings Playbook that seem to follow the trend of "love is the cure" where being in a relationship (and in this case dancing?) solves all of their problems and they live happily ever after. The movie Garden State employs the manic pixie dream girl (in this case Natalie Portman) to convince leading man Zach Braff to stop taking his antidepressant medication, as though the medication is to blame and not the depression itself.
Really there’s a theme in a lot of movies like this where "deciding to be happy" is all it takes to "snap you out of it," as though most mental illnesses aren’t caused by genetics and chemical imbalances in the brain. As though being sick is just a decision we’ve made and we can decide to be healthy any time we want. Wouldn’t that be nice.
The harm from these kinds of movies comes when friends and family of people with depression watch them and think “Well if it’s that easy to get better, why can’t you do it?” when people who are supposed to be your support system can’t understand because what you’re going through isn’t like they saw in the movies.
There is an even greater impact though, the impact on the person with the illness themselves. I watch It’s Kind Of A Funny Story back when it came out in 2010 and it really affected me. The main character is a teenage boy suffering from depression and suicidal ideation, and he goes to the hospital for help where he becomes an inpatient. While at the hospital he meets the quirky Emma Roberts and the funny Zach Galifianakis, he falls for the former and basically they live happily ever after. At the time this movie made me wonder why my depression wasn’t that tidy, why help wasn’t that easy for me to access, and of course, it made me wonder, where’s my Emma Roberts?
The truth is that my mental illnesses are something I will struggle with for the rest of my life, there is no easy fix and because no one gives funding or attention to the mental health services help isn’t going to be bountiful. The truth is that while I’m fully capable of falling in love and being loved in return, that won’t make my mental illnesses suddenly go away, it isn’t a cure. And honestly, the truth is that while there may be movies that showcase the true scope and consequences of depression, I haven’t seen one yet, so maybe it’s time for a mainstream movie to get it right for a change.