Depression drawings (and their meanings)

In this brief article, we will discuss what depression drawings look like. 

We will also briefly discuss what depression is and it’s criteria for diagnosis. In addition to this, we  have compiled a list of depression drawings which express the way most of us who suffer from depression feel. 

What do depression drawings look like?

Depression in art is a widely talked about subject for the world of art with the “tortured artist” being a significant character that many non-artistis know and read about; even to the point of romanticisng about such characters. 

While one might think that depression in art or drawings are often obvious by the content that is created, it is not likely that what is being drawn is indicative of depression as compared to how it is being created. 

According to a study of twenty-six patients, hospitalized for depression, and 26 non-depressed individuals who were asked to make “funny” and “sad” drawings, there were significant differences between the art produced by the two samples. 

The study concluded that the characteristics of drawings done by depressed patients included:

  • a single dark color, particularly in the “sad” drawing, or a few dark ones
  • few living beings
  • no social themes
  • traced in shaky or broken lines
  • few elements and objects
  • no warm colors for either sad or funny drawings
  • the head of a person without body 
  • small in size
  • location close to the left edge of the sheet

The significant differences were detected in the formal aspects of the drawings as opposed to the content- meaning that signs of depression were seen in the shape, structure, colour as opposed to what was being drawn.

The drawings of people who were depressed were drawn in dark colors,

often brown or purple, are traced in shaky lines, and represent few objects and less indications of other people. 

The analysis also indicated, albeit weakly, that their drawings tend to be smaller in size and drawn at the bottom left of the page as compared to the control group who used more warm colours, indicated monroe objects and other people, had bolder and stead lines.

The study concluded that compared to control participants, people with depression seemed to have limited freedom due to their lack of interests with the outer world, loneliness, low moods, and in some severe cases psychomotor inhibition. 

This lack of freedom impacted their choice of elements to be drawn, colours, other objects, listening to the head of the character being drawn and tended to be less fanciful and used limited colours to indicate fun. 

The study also noted that the symbols used for depression were not indicative of depression and significant differences were noted in the formal aspects of the art such as location, quality, colour, events and objects- not necessarily the symbol of themes that were used. 

The researchers further noted that the difference between the two groups in terms of the formal aspects were not intentional or conscious to the participants, which indicate that the symbols used for sadness by non-depressed participants were intentional as was the use of dark colours. 

What is Depression?

Depression or clinically known as major depressive disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders, is a  serious mood disorder where people affected by it experience persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. 

Apart from these emotional distress, people with depression can also experience physical symptoms such as chronic pain, or changes in their behaviour such as social withdrawal or slowed movements.

For someone to be diagnosed with clinical depression, symptoms must be present for at least two weeks. Let us look at the various symptoms that must meet the criteria for a diagnosis of depression. 

What is the DSM criteria for Depression diagnosis?

The Diagnostic and statistical manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed) DSM-V outlines the following criterion to make a diagnosis of depression. 

The individual must be experiencing five or more symptoms during the same 2-week period and at least one of the symptoms should be either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure. 

These symptoms should indicate change from normal functioning. 

  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day- either by their own observation or observation made by others.
  • Diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia. 
  • A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
  • Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

To be diagnosed with depression, these symptoms must cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. 

These symptoms should also not be the result of substance abuse or another medical condition

What are some drawings that represent depression?

We have created a curated list of artists from various parts of the world that have put their creative skills to depict what depression and mental illness look like to them. 

Here are a few examples of the art we have curated:

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By Sebastian Ebison

In this distressing depression drawing, gut wrenching pain that is wrapped inside one’s self is depicted that further spirals down in an unending downward spiral of agony. 

The art is a thoughtful reminder of the gloomy dark loop one often struggles with when they have been affected by depression. 

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In this depression pencil drawing, we see a skeleton with no flesh or insides Created by artist Huane, the art indicates the loss of one’s inner self when suffering through depression. 

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This particularly haunting piece of art that has been created by an anonymous artist depicts the silent and lonely experience of mental illness such as depression. There is sorrow and distress in the experience whilst also hidden in the dark due to the stigma one faces. 

If you want to look at the other works done by other artists chosen by use, you can access our list here

BoredPanda 

In this curated list by BoredPanda author and community member Vaiva Vareikaite, the drawings indicate the first hand experiences of various individuals who have also experienced living with a mental illness such as depression. 

The art and drawings expand themes from monsters living in your head to feelings of complete loneliness which indicate how debilitating the condition can be. 

The author along with the art work she has curated also urges readers to get help and seek out support if they suspect themselves of having been affected by this disorder. 

You can access the curated list here

Highexistence

The author of this blog in Highexistence.com,  Jon Brooks notes that every October with the start of inktober which is a community event where artistics all over the world take on drawings every day for the entire month. 

Brooks has curated the work of Ohio-based artist Shawn Coss in the year 2016 who decided to focus exclusively on personifying mental illnesses and disorders for his inktober projects. .

He notes that the work of Shawn Coss captures the turmoil of those who suffer with these disorders while also relaying how hard the experience and the distress is. Urging views to view the work with empathy and an improved understanding of the community that struggles with mental illness on the daily. 

You can access the curated list here

Conclusion

In this brief article, we have discussed what depression drawings look like. 

We also briefly discussed what depression is and it’s criteria for diagnosis. In addition to this, we have compiled a list of depression drawings and various sites that have curated such drawings which express the way most of us who suffer from depression feel. 

References:

Brooks. J. 18 Disturbing Mental Illnesses and Depression Drawings. Highexistence. Retrieved on 26th November 2021. https://highexistence.com/18-mental-illness-drawings/

Vareikaite.V, 137 Artists Try To Show What Depression Looks Like And Some Results Will Make Your Skin Crawl. Boredpanda. Retrieved on 26th November 2021. https://www.boredpanda.com/depression-through-art/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic

Miljkovitch de Heredia RM, Miljkovitch I. Drawings of depressed inpatients: intentional and unintentional expression of emotional states. J Clin Psychol. 1998 Dec;54(8):1029-42. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1097-4679(199812)54:8<1029::aid-jclp3>3.0.co;2-d. Erratum in: J Clin Psychol 1999 Apr;55(4):following 524. PMID: 9840775.

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