Depression in Popular Culture: Films, Literature, Music

Depression in Pop Culture: Film, Literature, and Music

Winston Churchill called it “the black dog.” In Abraham Lincoln’s time, it was referred to as “melancholy.” Depression has been around since the dawn of time, and human beings have been trying to make sense of the disorder through creative expressions and artistic pursuits.

There are many different films and other works of art that revolve around the subject of depression and how it had affected people, especially before modern medicine became effective at alleviating the symptoms of depression. Many of the world’s most famous literary and musical pieces find their roots in the author’s struggles with the disorder. The following article will explore depression’s role in many famous, pop cultural icons and works of art.

Depression in Pop Culture: Films, Literature, Music

What role has depression played in some of the most famous works of art?

The symptoms of depression can be overwhelming and affect many different facets of a person’s life and behavior. When the disease is untreated, sadness, gloom, and self-doubt color the sufferer’s entire world and change their perspective and outlook to pessimism. Before the era of modern medicine, people with depression had few resources to cope with the disorder, and there were no effective medical treatments.

For people with depression, art and expression were some of the only ways to cope with and makes sense of overwhelming, painful emotions. Even in the 21st century, where there are medications and noninvasive procedures to alleviate symptoms, art can still give people a way to release and express their negative emotions and pain in healthy ways. Increasingly, art therapy has been gaining traction in rehabilitation centers as an effective way to help people communicate their distress and decrease the pain associated with the disorder.

When used to treat depression, art gives the sufferer an outlet for releasing feelings and thoughts that are not easy to express verbally, and can only be realized through a creative pursuit. Many famous artworks and artists have demonstrated that the creative process enables those with depression to resolve their negative feelings through creativity. While creativity alone cannot treat depression, sufferers can find some relief in artistic expressions.

  • Pop star Janet Jackson’s triple-platinum album, “The Velvet Rope,” was fueled by her struggles with depression and anxiety.
  • Francisco de Goya’s famous paintings of mayhem, chaos, and absurdity were fueled in part by his struggle with depression brought on by the tragedies of war.
  • Author Douglas Adams began writing “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” while struggling with depression.
  • Author and playwright Henry James wrote many of his novels while struggling with depression.
  • Zelda Fitzgerald’s famous “Self Portrait in Watercolor” was completed during her stay in a mental institution in the 1940s.
  • Pablo Picasso’s “The Blue Room” communicates his melancholic, depressive moods in varying shades of blue and few other colors. The painting was completed during the time of his friend’s death.
  • Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” was painted during a manic depressive phase.
  • Vincent Van Gogh’s painting, “Sorrowing Old Man,” was created two years before he committed suicide.
  • Albrecht Durer’s “Melencolia I” was his depiction of sadness and depression.
  • Writer Hans Christian Andersen penned one of his most famous stories, “The Snow Queen,” during a depressive episode.
  • Depression was a strong theme in Virginia Woolf’s famous novel, “Mrs. Dalloway.”
  • “Hurt” by Johnny Cash is a song about the struggles of depression and suicidal ideation.
  • “Only Happy When it Rains” by the band Garbage is about depression symptoms.
  • Many of William Blake’s famous works were created during manic phases before he would fall into a severe depressive state.

Who are some famous artists who’ve been diagnosed with depression?

  • Kurt Cobain of Nirvana greatly struggled with depression, suicide, and drug use. Unfortunately, he lost his battle with the disease in 1994.
  • Director Woody Allen suffers from depressive episodes.
  • Writer and poet Sylvia Plath struggled with untreated depression as a young adult before committing suicide.
  • Writer Mark Twain struggled with depression in his older years, fueled in part by the deaths of his wife and two daughters.
  • Ernest Hemingway struggled with depression and delusions before committing suicide in 1961.
  • Writer Agatha Christie disappeared for eleven days in 1926 from fugue state brought on by depression.
  • Edgar Allen Poe struggled with depression and alcoholism for much of his adult life.
  • Beyonce Knowles has admitted to struggling with major depressive episodes as an adult.
  • Kurt Vonnegut struggled with depression as an adult and attempted suicide in 1984. His mother died from suicide when the writer was 22.
  • Vincent Van Gogh struggled throughout most of his life with manic episodes and psychotic depression before committing suicide at the age of 37.

Is there a definitive link between depression and creativity?

Studies have found that there is a link between mood disorders and creativity. Recent studies have used personal interviews of subjects, as well as diagnoses that reflect contemporary concepts of major depression and bipolar depression. All recent studies conducted on the links between depression and creativity have found reliable, positive connections between the two concepts. Creative persons do have higher lifetime prevalence rates of major depressive disorder and bipolar depression. Writers and authors tend to score the highest on rates of major depression and bipolar depression as well.


What are the treatment methods for depression?

Unfortunately, there weren’t many effective and safe treatment methods for depression when famous artists like Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, and Vincent Van Gogh were alive. But today, there are many different treatment methods for the disorder that are both safe and highly effective.

Many people who go on to seek treatment for depression will not experience another episode in their lifetimes. However, up to 30% of depressed patients do not respond well to antidepressant medications. For these patients, there are many alternative therapy methods they can try to alleviate symptoms.

Most patients will benefit from talk therapy. Noninvasive deep brain stimulation techniques are highly effective at alleviating depression symptoms. 37% of patients who receive transcranial magnetic stimulation for depression see a complete remission of symptoms.

If you or someone you care about is suffering from depression, please do not hesitate to reach out for help from a qualified mental health professional today. The technicians at Pulse TMS are standing by to answer any questions you may have about depression symptoms and treatment.