One of the vital parts of putting an anthology together is the research. I’ll spend hours seeking out incredible, thoughtful writing and art by a wide swath of talented creators. For (Don’t) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start The Conversation About Mental Health, this meant spending a good chunk of time listening and reading a wide range of voices, including digging deep into excellent depression poems.
I struggle with depression myself, and as a writer and (former) poet, I find myself drawn to poetry to find solace, to find comfort, to find solidarity, and to better understand my experiences—as well as the experiences of those who deal with depression in ways that don’t mirror mine at all. Depression poems offer up such a range of experiences and really put the period at the end of the statement that no single experience can get it right or accurately depict what a mental illness looks or feels like.
Find below a wide range of depression poems, from contemporary pieces to classics from well-known poets. These are ones that resonate, whether or not they’re ones that are necessarily perfectly relatable. Included are full poems, video performances, poets who are making a name for themselves, and much more. Readers who do, as well as those who do not, deal with mental illness will appreciate what’s out there.
Knowing these depression poems will dig into the realities of life with mental illness, proceed with caution. 300 million people worldwide struggle with depression. If you’re one of them or suspect someone you love may be, seek help from someone you trust.
Depression Poems For Those Who Struggle—and Those who want to better understand the illness
1. “It was not death, for I stood up” by Emily Dickinson
It was not Death, for I stood up,
And all the Dead, lie down—
It was not Night, for all the Bells
Put out their Tongues, for Noon.
It was not Frost, for on my Flesh
Nor Fire—for just my Marble feet
Could keep a Chancel, cool—
And yet, it tasted, like them all,
The Figures I have seen
Set orderly, for Burial,
Reminded me, of mine—
As if my life were shaven,
And fitted to a frame,
And could not breathe without a key,
And ’twas like Midnight, some –
When everything that ticked—has stopped—
And Space stares—all around—
Or Grisly frosts—first Autumn morns,
Repeal the Beating Ground—
But, most, like Chaos—Stopless—cool—
Without a Chance, or Spar—
Or even a Report of Land—
2. “Broken Wing” by @WrittenByWill
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This is one of my favorite pieces from my book “Lost in Life’s Ocean.” The title was inspired by a Joe Budden song with the same name. It deals with some of the complex feelings I grappled with because of my depression, fears and anxiety. Feelings like worrying that past scars would prevent my growth, that my fears would paralyze me and my anxiety about people getting tired of waiting for me to heal. Who else can relate?
3. “Tulips” by Sylvia Plath
The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anesthetist and my body to surgeons.
They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.
My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.
Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage——
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.
I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat
stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.
Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley
I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books
Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.
I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.
I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free——
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.
The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle : they seem to float, though they weigh me down,
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.
Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.
Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.
They concentrate my attention, that was happy
Playing and resting without committing itself.
The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.
4. “Explaining Depression To A Refugee” by Muna Abdulahi
5. “The Fury of Rainstorms” by Anne Sexton
The rain drums down like red ants,
each bouncing off my window.
The ants are in great pain
and they cry out as they hit
as if their little legs were only
stitched on and their heads pasted.
And oh they bring to mind the grave,
so humble, so willing to be beat upon
with its awful lettering and
the body lying underneath
without an umbrella.
Depression is boring, I think
and I would do better to make
some soup and light up the cave.
6. “Explaining Depression To My Mother” by Sabrina Benaim
7. “Having It Out With Melancholy” by Jane Kenyon
1. FROM THE NURSERY
When I was born, you waited
behind a pile of linen in the nursery,
and when we were alone, you lay down
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore.
And from that day on
everything under the sun and moon
made me sad — even the yellow
wooden beads that slid and spun
along a spindle on my crib.
You taught me to exist without gratitude.
You ruined my manners toward God:
“We’re here simply to wait for death;
the pleasures of earth are overrated.”
I only appeared to belong to my mother,
to live among blocks and cotton undershirts
with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes
and report cards in ugly brown slipcases.
I was already yours — the anti-urge,
the mutilator of souls.
Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin,
Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax,
Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft.
The coated ones smell sweet or have
no smell; the powdery ones smell
like the chemistry lab at school
that made me hold my breath.
3. SUGGESTION FROM A FRIEND
You wouldn’t be so depressed
if you really believed in God.
Often I go to bed as soon after dinner
as seems adult
(I mean I try to wait for dark)
in order to push away
from the massive pain in sleep’s
frail wicker coracle.
5. ONCE THERE WAS LIGHT
Once, in my early thirties, I saw
that I was a speck of light in the great
river of light that undulates through time
I was floating with the whole
human family. We were all colors — those
who are living now, those who have died,
those who are not yet born. For a few
moments I floated, completely calm,
and I no longer hated having to exist
Like a crow who smells hot blood
you came flying to pull me out
of the glowing stream.
“I’ll hold you up. I never let my dear
ones drown!” After that, I wept for days.
6. IN AND OUT
The dog searches until he finds me
upstairs, lies down with a clatter
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.
Sometimes the sound of his breathing
saves my life — in and out, in
and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . .
A piece of burned meat
wears my clothes, speaks
in my voice, dispatches obligations
haltingly, or not at all.
It is tired of trying
to be stouthearted, tired
We move on to the monoamine
oxidase inhibitors. Day and night
I feel as if I had drunk six cups
of coffee, but the pain stops
abruptly. With the wonder
and bitterness of someone pardoned
for a crime she did not commit
I come back to marriage and friends,
to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back
to my desk, books, and chair.
Pharmaceutical wonders are at work
but I believe only in this moment
of well-being. Unholy ghost,
you are certain to come again.
Coarse, mean, you’ll put your feet
on the coffee table, lean back,
and turn me into someone who can’t
take the trouble to speak; someone
who can’t sleep, or who does nothing
but sleep; can’t read, or call
for an appointment for help.
There is nothing I can do
against your coming.
When I awake, I am still with thee.
9. WOOD THRUSH
High on Nardil and June light
I wake at four,
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air
presses through the screen
with the wild, complex song
of the bird, and I am overcome
by ordinary contentment.
What hurt me so terribly
all my life until this moment?
How I love the small, swiftly
beating heart of the bird
singing in the great maples;
its bright, unequivocal eye.
8. “Depression” by Rupi Kaur
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today on #worldmentalhealthday i reflect on my own experiences with anxiety and depression. it is the most difficult thing i’ve gone through. i reflect on the experiences of my parents and friends. i’ve seen how their lives and minds can deteriorate without proper care. many of us come from communities where “mental health” doesn’t exist and we are told depression can be cured with positive thinking and by keeping your head up. our experiences are intersectional so it’s impossible for me to encapsulate all my thoughts in one caption but i want to say: even when you feel most alone. especially when you feel most alone. you must remember we are right here with you. reach out to friends and family. friends and family i need you to reach out to those who you think are suffering and let them know you are on standby for support. to listen and let them be heard. together we can teach each other. and overcome diseases that are now one of the leading causes of death in our world. sending all my love and light to you my beautiful people. – rupi
9. “Monsters at Home” by Simonne Stellenboom
You are my home.
But I know too well,
That even a home can house monsters.
10. “You Can’t Be Depressed” by Neil Hilborn
11. “He Resigns” by John Berryman
Age, and the deaths, and the ghosts.
Her having gone away
in spirit from me. Hosts
of regrets come and find me empty.
I don’t feel this will change.
I don’t want anything
or person, familiar or strange.
I don’t think I will sing
anymore just now,
or ever. I must start
to sit with a blind brow
above an empty heart.
12. Untitled by Amanda Lovelace
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this isn’t where i am anymore, but i don’t want to hide a single part of my journey. after a while, i found a less treacherous path. i found that i possess magic even in my ugliest, messiest moments. if this is where you are now: keep going, even when it seems hopeless. 🧚🏻♀️✨ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ from my new poetry collection, the mermaid’s voice returns in this one. available now.
13. “Depression” by Cara Delvigne
Who am I? Who am I trying to be?
Not myself, anyone but myself.
Living in a fantasy to bury the reality,
Making myself the mystery,
A strong facade disguising the misery.
Empty, but beyond the point of emptiness,
Full to brim with fake confidence,
A guard that will never be broken,
Because I broke a long time ago.
I’m hurting but don’t tell anyone.
No one needs to know.
Don’t show or you’ve failed.
Always okay, always fine, always on show.
The show must go on.
It will never stop.
The show must not go on,
But I know it will.
I give up. I give up giving up.
I am lost.
I don’t need to be saved,
I need to be found.
14. “When People Ask Me How I’m Doing” by Rudy Francisco
15. “McDonalds Is Impossible” by Chelsea Martin
Eating food from McDonald’s is mathematically impossible.
Because before you can eat it, you have to order it.
And before you can order it, you have to decide what you want.
And before you can decide what you want, you have to read the menu.
And before you can read the menu, you have to be in front of the menu.
And before you can be in front of the menu, you have to wait in line.
And before you can wait in line, you have to drive to the restaurant.
And before you can drive to the restaurant, you have to get in your car.
And before you can get in your car, you have to put clothes on.
And before you can put clothes on, you have to get out of bed.
And before you can get out of bed, you have to stop being so depressed.
And before you can stop being so depressed, you have to understand what depression is.
And before you can understand what depression is, you have to think clearly.
And before you can think clearly, you have to turn off the TV.
And before you can turn off the TV, you have to free your hands.
And before you can free your hands, you have to stop masturbating.
And before you can stop masturbating, you have to get off.
And before you can get off, you have to imagine someone you really like with his pants off, encouraging you to explore his enlarged genitalia.
And before you can imagine someone you really like with his pants off encouraging you to explore his enlarged genitalia, you have to imagine that person stroking your neck.
And before you can imagine that person stroking your neck, you have to imagine that person walking up to you looking determined.
And before you can imagine that person walking up to you looking determined, you have to choose who that person is.
And before you can choose who that person is, you have to like someone.
And before you can like someone, you have to interact with someone.
And before you can interact with someone, you have to introduce yourself.
And before you can introduce yourself, you have to be in a social situation.
And before you can be in a social situation, you have to be invited to something somehow.
And before you can be invited to something somehow, you have to receive a telephone call from a friend.
And before you can receive a telephone call from a friend, you have to make a reputation for yourself as being sort of fun.
And before you can make a reputation for yourself as being sort of fun, you have to be noticeably fun on several different occasions.
And before you can be noticeably fun on several different occasions, you have to be fun once in the presence of two or more people.
And before you can be fun once in the presence of two or more people, you have to be drunk.
And before you can be drunk, you have to buy alcohol.
And before you can buy alcohol, you have to want your psychological state to be altered.
And before you can want your psychological state to be altered, you have to recognize that your current psychological state is unsatisfactory.
And before you can recognize that your current psychological state is unsatisfactory, you have to grow tired of your lifestyle.
And before you can grow tired of your lifestyle, you have to repeat the same patterns over and over endlessly.
And before you can repeat the same patterns over and over endlessly, you have to lose a lot of your creativity.
And before you can lose a lot of your creativity, you have to stop reading books.
And before you can stop reading books, you have to think that you would benefit from reading less frequently.
And before you can think that you would benefit from reading less frequently, you have to be discouraged by the written word.
And before you can be discouraged by the written word, you have to read something that reinforces your insecurities.
And before you can read something that reinforces your insecurities, you have to have insecurities.
And before you can have insecurities, you have to be awake for part of the day.
And before you can be awake for part of the day, you have to feel motivation to wake up.
And before you can feel motivation to wake up, you have to dream of perfectly synchronized conversations with people you desire to talk to.
And before you can dream of perfectly synchronized conversations with people you desire to talk to, you have to have a general idea of what a perfectly synchronized conversation is.
And before you can have a general idea of what a perfectly synchronized conversation is, you have to watch a lot of movies in which people successfully talk to each other.
And before you can watch a lot of movies in which people successfully talk to each other, you have to have an interest in other people.
And before you can have an interest in other people, you have to have some way of benefiting from other people.
And before you can have some way of benefiting from other people, you have to have goals.
And before you can have goals, you have to want power.
And before you can want power, you have to feel greed.
And before you can feel greed, you have to feel more deserving than others.
And before you can feel more deserving than others, you have to feel a general disgust with the human population.
And before you can feel a general disgust with the human population, you have to be emotionally wounded.
And before you can be emotionally wounded, you have to be treated badly by someone you think you care about while in a naive, vulnerable state.
And before you can be treated badly by someone you think you care about while in a naive, vulnerable state, you have to feel inferior to that person.
And before you can feel inferior to that person, you have to watch him laughing and walking towards his drum kit with his shirt off and the sun all over him.
And before you can watch him laughing and walking towards his drum kit with his shirt off and the sun all over him, you have to go to one of his outdoor shows.
And before you can go to one of his outdoor shows, you have to pretend to know something about music.
And before you can pretend to know something about music, you have to feel embarrassed about your real interests.
And before you can feel embarrassed about your real interests, you have to realize that your interests are different from other people’s interests.
And before you can realize that your interests are different from other people’s interests, you have to be regularly misunderstood.
And before you can be regularly misunderstood, you have to be almost completely socially debilitated.
And before you can be almost completely socially debilitated, you have to be an outcast.
And before you can be an outcast, you have to be rejected by your entire group of friends.
And before you can be rejected by your entire group of friends, you have to be suffocatingly loyal to your friends.
And before you can be suffocatingly loyal to your friends, you have to be afraid of loss.
And before you can be afraid of loss, you have to lose something of value.
And before you can lose something of value, you have to realize that that thing will never change.
And before you can realize that that thing will never change, you have to have the same conversation with your grandmother forty or fifty times.
And before you can have the same conversation with your grandmother forty or fifty times, you have to have a desire to talk to her and form a meaningful relationship.
And before you can have a desire to talk to her and form a meaningful relationship, you have to love her.
And before you can love her, you have to notice the great tolerance she has for you.
And before you can notice the great tolerance she has for you, you have to break one of her favorite china teacups that her mother gave her and forget to apologize.
And before you can break one of her favorite china teacups that her mother gave her and forget to apologize, you have to insist on using the teacups for your imaginary tea party. And before you can insist on using the teacups for your imaginary tea party, you have to cultivate your imagination.
And before you can cultivate your imagination, you have to spend a lot of time alone.
And before you can spend a lot of time alone, you have to find ways to sneak away from your siblings.
And before you can find ways to sneak away from your siblings, you have to have siblings.
And before you can have siblings, you have to underwhelm your parents.
And before you can underwhelm your parents, you have to be quiet, polite and unnoticeable.
And before you can be quiet, polite and unnoticeable, you have to understand that it is possible to disappoint your parents.
And before you can understand that it is possible to disappoint your parents, you have to be harshly reprimanded.
And before you can be harshly reprimanded, you have to sing loudly at an inappropriate moment.
And before you can sing loudly at an inappropriate moment, you have to be happy.
And before you can be happy, you have to be able to recognize happiness.
And before you can be able to recognize happiness, you have to know distress.
And before you can know distress, you have to be watched by an insufficient babysitter for one week.
And before you can be watched by an insufficient babysitter for one week, you have to vomit on the other, more pleasant babysitter.
And before you can vomit on the other, more pleasant babysitter, you have to be sick.
And before you can be sick, you have to eat something you’re allergic to.
And before you can eat something you’re allergic to, you have to have allergies.
And before you can have allergies, you have to be born.
And before you can be born, you have to be conceived.
And before you can be conceived, your parents have to copulate.
And before your parents can copulate, they have to be attracted to one another.
And before they can be attracted to one another, they have to have common interests.
And before they can have common interests, they have to talk to each other.
And before they can talk to each other, they have to meet.
And before they can meet, they have to have in-school suspension on the same day.
And before they can have in-school suspension on the same day, they have to get caught sneaking off campus separately.
And before they can get caught sneaking off campus separately, they have to think of somewhere to go.
And before they can think of somewhere to go, they have to be familiar with McDonald’s.
And before they can be familiar with McDonald’s, they have to eat food from McDonald’s.
And eating food from McDonald’s is mathematically impossible.
16. “Every 40 Seconds” by Patrick Roche
17. “Sadness” by Erin Hanson (e.h.)
18. “Depression” by Phil Kaye
19. “The Swimming Lesson” by Mary Oliver
Feeling the icy kick, the endless waves
Reaching around my life, I moved my arms
And coughed, and in the end saw land.
Somebody, I suppose,
Remembering the medieval maxim,
Had tossed me in,
Had wanted me to learn to swim,
Not knowing that none of us, who ever came back
From that long lonely fall and frenzied rising,
Ever learned anything at all
About swimming, but only
How to put off, one by one,
Dreams and pity, love and grace, –
How to survive in any place.
20. “This Is What It Feels Like To Be Depressed”
21. “Six Months After Contemplating Suicide” by Erika L. Sanchez
Admit it —
you wanted the end
with a serpentine
greed. How to negotiate
mist, the fibrous
To cease to exist
and to die
are two different things entirely.
But you knew this,
Some days you knelt on coins
in those yellow hours.
You lit a flame
to your shadow
scorpions with your naked fingers.
So touched by the sadness of hair
in a dirty sink.
The malevolent smell
When instead of swallowing a fistful
of white pills,
you decided to shower,
the palm trees
nodded in agreement,
of crickets singing
behind your swollen eyes.
The masked bird
turned to you
with a shred of paper hanging
from its beak.
hair wet and fragrant,
you cupped a goat’s face
his trembling horns.
It fell prostrate,
passed through you
like a swift
and generous storm.
22. “Still Life With Antidepressants” by Aaron Smith
The afternoon light lights
the room in a smudged
sheen, a foggy-eyed glow.
The dog digs at the couch,
low-growling at the mailman.
I’m spelling words with pills
spilled consolidating bottles:
yes and try and most of happy:
Maybe I’ll empty them all.
A woman I don’t know
is having a drill drill into her
skull. To get rid of the thing
requires entering the brain.
How to imagine a story
that ends with that ending?
I don’t know how to live my life,
but at least today I want to.
23. “Living With Depression” by Dan Roman
24. “This Might Not Make Sense Now, But Don’t Worry, It Will” by Noah Michelson
for Paolo Fanoli
When I ask Paolo how to draw the line between
not wanting to live anymore and wanting to die,
all he’ll quietly commit to is “that isn’t funny.”
I’m worried I worry him.
He says if I ever left him he would keep my body
under his bed and drag it out once a day to remember me,
prop up the less and less of me that’s left of me
and remind me of the world I left behind me — just look!
Some people can wake up every morning, open their
eyes and recognize something beautiful, even if it’s
just the sun slobbering across the bedroom floor with its
hot black tongue,
so, why can’t you?
He’s right, of course, but when I was 14, nothing was
more beautiful than the thought of the heavy gray
garage door guarding the far edge of my family’s driveway
and how sweetly, how surely it could kiss my head
apart from the rest of my body if only I asked it sweetly
Things were different then —
I still was afraid to ask for what I wanted then and I
spent my lunch hours holed up in the biology lab hiding
from the other boys, sobbing into my sandwich, another
pickled frog prince bobbing in his embalming fluid, one more
never-born piglet day-drunk on the useless daydream of
one day living someone else’s life on the other side of the glass
but we both know how that story ends.
25. “Real Depression” by Atticus
26. “Depression” by Rage Almighty
27. “Depression” by Alison Pick
I come by it honestly,
an heirloom passed
from my father
and grandmother before me.
In the bed by the window
she stares at the ceiling,
pills untouched on the dresser.
Cancer uncurls in her brain.
She says she feels nothing,
the heavy deadness
which also weighs me down.
Don’t worry, love, depression comes
and then goes. Soon
it will be over.
She says this to me.
And to herself.
28. “A Lesson” by Lang Leav
— Lang Leav (@langleav) April 27, 2015
29. “Black Depression” by Deniero
30. “What I Could Never Tell My Mother” by Margaret Westenhoff
What I could never tell my mother
Isn’t her fault; it’s mine
It’s things wrapped inside of me, coiled like wire with the filament exposed
She could accept them – those things – I’m sure
Maybe even love them the way she loves me; little puzzle pieces
That fell out of the box when we were putting it under the sofa
After we almost finished the puzzle together
But I hide them inside my deepest aorta
Keeping them safe because who wants to grab a still-beating heart?
It would kill me to take those secrets out
So my mother may know they exist
But she lets me keep them.
And maybe that’s the real secret, the one that
She doesn’t know –
It’s that I need some secrets of my own.