Mental Illness in Horror: That Shadowy Beast, Depression.

So, I know I’ve been neglecting the blog for quite a while now, apologies for that. Things have been rough, not going to lie. Finances are a strain, stress, medical issues… the list goes on. The biggest thing that’s been keeping me down though, is my depression.

Growing up I would always have these weird feelings I could never quite place. It was like my heart would suddenly weigh a hundred pounds and sink into my chest. I would feel like I was a burden on everyone around me, that they would be better off if I just disappeared. I remember first feeling like this at thirteen years old.

I got the same feeling on and off for years. It went in and out, hills and valleys, no rhyme or reason to why I felt the way I did. But I always got told it was just “the blues” or that I was just down in the dumps. Nobody really asked me what it was I was feeling or what could be causing it.

Fast forward to my early twenties and I’m finally, medically diagnosed manic depressive. The way the doctor said it made it seem like a bad word, something that shouldn’t be talked about. Along with that they also told me I had generalized anxiety and bipolar disorder. It was all kind of a kick in the face to be told at once. I finally had a name for this monster that had been latched to my brain for most of my life.

That was about the point that I realized that I wasn’t the only one that felt this way. So many people are depressed and they may not even know it. I know it’s widespread amongst people my age, and probably in the older and younger generations as well. We can tell from writing, film, music, historical accounts and everything: depression is as old as time itself, and it’s here to stay.

But that’s where we get our coping mechanisms. Everyone has it different. Some people use music, some write, some play sports… mine is horror. Horror in any form allows me to personify my depression and give it a face. It lets me see this shadowy beast and tame it. Depression is the most fearsome monster there is, but it can be controlled, it can be tamed.

So, while looking through my movie collection I found quite a few that I realized portrayed depression as the antagonist, something that has to be fought and slated. The Babadook, Hereditary, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Donnie Darko, Lights Out… the list is endless. So many horror stories have their root in dealing with some sort of mental illness, and that’s what I’m hoping to open up with all this.

With this being National Suicide Awareness Week, I wanted to do something and dive deep into what keeps me going, coping with my fears in a way that clicks with me. This may not work for everyone, but if it helps even one person it’s worth it.

So, one of my favorite depictions of depression, as cliche as it may sound, is Donnie Darko. It perfectly captures the angst of teenage life, not knowing what you want to do in the future and feeling the pressure of everyone watching you. Donnie is an unreliable narrator because he’s depressed and we see everything through his eyes. When he’s happy, the colors are bright and vivid. When he’s having a depressive episode, everything turns dark with stark contrasts between colors.

The other great example, and a more recent one, is The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix. Everyone in the family is fucked up beyond measure, having had the traumatic childhood experience that Hill House brought on to them, on top of dealing with Nell’s death at the beginning of the series.

This is where I’m getting into the meat of everything, so if you haven’t finished Hill House then for thee love of God, turn back.

Cool, spoiler line is crossed.

So through the whole series there are conflicting accounts of what happened in the house, whether it be actual ghosts or the mother’s depression and (possibly) schizophrenia. Everything culminates in the flashback timeline with their mother killing herself in the house, falling from the landing of the red room to the floor below just like Nellie would years later.

It’s all such a beautifully twisted analogy for depression and how it can branch out through a family, whether by genetics, shared experience, or just the ripple effect from one to another. Every member of the Crane family is fucked up in some way or form, with, ironically, the most normal of them being the drug addicted Luke. They all cope with their depression in different ways though, and that’s what makes it so real.

Steve sets out on a quest to disprove ghosts in any way or form, Shirley runs a funeral home, making herself confront death constantly, Theo shuts herself off from the rest of them, losing herself in one night stands and whoever she can have lover her for a small amount of time, before immediately pushing them away. Nell seemed to be the only one that made it out of the cycle initially, until her husband died in his sleep, sending her back into the spiral and eventually, into suicide.

All this is to say: we’re all fucked up, but we all cope in our own different ways, good or bad. Some of us use drugs, sex, or just compartmentalize everything. Bottle it up and hide your feelings. Me though, I use horror.

Depression has been this faceless beast, holding on to my back for as long as I can remember. I finally started writing to personify it. I’ve given it life, let it breathe as a character in my stories. It’s not always the antagonist. Sometimes it’s a familiar friend that you greet, knowing that they will come by and stay a while to visit, but they will always leave again, eventually.

Your depression doesn’t define you. Your depression doesn’t dictate who you are, or what you can do. Depression is the Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, Babadook, Xenomorph… whatever face you’ve given it. I call mine the Void. It lives in me, sometimes showing it’s face. But just remember that if your depression is Michael Myers, you’re Laurie Strode. You survive. You go on. Preparing, waiting for the next battle, knowing that you’ll win.


One thought on “Mental Illness in Horror: That Shadowy Beast, Depression.”

  1. I felt the teeth of the black dog gnawing at my bones for the first time when I was around 7. It’s been slowly devouring me ever since. Writing horror and reading/watching horror has been a great help in coping and making sense of pain. Thank you for this post.


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