How to Write a Depressed Character That Won’t Depress Your Reader

How to Write a Depressed Character That Won’t Depress Your Reader


Presented by BetterHelp.


Writing a believable character with physical and mental health conditions can be difficult for some writers, regardless of how much experience they have with the condition itself. When trying to develop a character that has a condition like depression, a common worry is that the writing will also depress and sadden the reader. However, there are many ways you can create a believable character that can draw empathy from your audience without getting them caught up in their own sadness. 

Have Purpose

Depression is a general term that covers several types of severe mood disorders. It’s important to learn more about the condition and what is depressing your character before just writing someone who fits into negative stereotypes. It could be a long-term condition, a traumatic response, or the symptom of another serious mental health condition. There needs to be a reasonable background for the cause of your character’s depression, which will in turn provide more information to your reader about the character’s feelings and reactions.


Whether you’re going to portray depression in your protagonist, a key side character, or in a brief interaction, there needs to be a purpose. It’s important to remember that while depression affects over 16 million people in the United States, it’s not a condition that can simply be brushed off and pushed through. What are you trying to accomplish by acknowledging this character’s condition? Even if it’s to depict a representative character, their challenges and differences shouldn’t be a passing glance to check off a box – they should have an influence on the flow or event in the piece. 

Don’t Hold Back

While you don’t need to get into the hard, dark details of your character’s mind, you also shouldn’t glance over their condition. If this person is going through depression or a mood disorder, realistically portraying some of their hardships can feel upsetting. However, there needs to be a balance between “glorifying suffering” and reducing realistic symptoms to take the edge off. 


Showing their pain through their distance, hesitations, or distrust should strengthen the characteristics of this individual, but it’s not their whole personality – instead, it can just make doing certain activities or hobbies more challenging. Explore this process and show the reader this struggle without glossing over some key details. Getting out of bed is hard some days, hanging out with friends isn’t always going to make them happier, and while they can end up using that sadness for creativity, pain isn’t beauty – it’s hard. 

Honesty is Not “Whining”

Finally, one of the most important negative stereotypes to throw out the window is that talking about depression is equivalent to “whining about problems.” When you write out the emotions and thoughts of a character with depression, it’s about being vulnerable and exposing the areas of their mind they want to hide. Similar to how pain isn’t beautiful, the thoughts that come from depressive episodes aren’t always articulate and thrilling. Sometimes, it’s about being crass and confused.


If you’re developing a scene where the character is venting their frustrations – even if another character accuses them of whining – you can depict the character struggling to articulate their emotions, becoming frustrated or dejected, or even making jokes throughout to try to balance the harsh words they may be saying. It’s important to have your reader connect with that struggle as opposed to trying to hone in on the sadness. Having that balance between exposing the darkness of a character, pulling the reader into their mindset, and also establishing a break between that character’s challenges can help you build a bond between your audience and the individuals in your story. 


Build A Relationship

You want your readers to connect to the characters and understand their personalities, mindsets, and reactions. Think about a friend, family member, or colleague you may know that has depression – they’re most likely not always bringing the room down; while these conditions can affect relationships, it’s often because of the symptoms and mindset this individual has. It’s important to remember that you’re expecting an audience to become invested in your storytelling – and sometimes that means it’s going to get sad when a depressed character is involved. 


Focus on depicting the character accurately and honestly. Be sure that their depression isn’t just to create a token character and instead builds purpose for some part of the plot or understanding. With proper research and a keen eye for detail, you won’t necessarily have to worry about the character making your reader too sad. Instead, it will be just enough, to be honest, realistic, and balanced to help move along your story. 

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