Bravo “Dear Evan Hansen”

“Dear Evan Hansen” is a musical about teenagers in the age of social media dealing with anxiety, confusion, loneliness, hurt, and suicide. A brilliant, cathartic narrative for our times, it cries out for us to recognize human fragility and empathize with it.

 

 

That message spread far beyond Broadway on Sunday night when “Dear Evan Hansen” won six Tony Awards, including for best musical, best actor, and best score. The musical’s cast album, with songs like “You Will Be Found,” “Requiem,” and “Waving Through a Window,” debuted in the Billboard Top 10 earlier this year.

Best-actor winner Ben Platt, who is 23, reached out to vulnerable teenagers in his acceptance remarks during the nationally televised ceremony at Radio City Music Hall:

“To all young people watching at home, don’t waste any time trying to be like anybody but yourself, because the things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful.”

In the plot, anxiety-ridden teen Evan Hansen writes pep-talk letters to himself on the advice of his therapist. One of the letters ends up in the pocket of a social outcast named Connor, who then dies by suicide. The Connor connection takes Evan into a swirl of lies as he fabricates stories about a friendship with Connor and pursues the crush he has on Connor’s sister. Evan achieves temporary social media-fueled fame as a campaigner to aid other youth experiencing Connor’s mental health struggles. Evan’s charade collapses, but the ordeal brings him to a reconciliation with his single-parent mom and to healthier self-awareness.

“Dear Evan Hansen” has been praised for its sensitive handling of mental disorders and suicide. The production has openly associated itself with mental health and suicide prevention organizations like the Child Mind Institute, the Crisis Text Line, The Jed Foundation, and The Trevor Project.

The show’s songwriters, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who won the Tony Award for best original score, spoke to Variety about the care they took in writing about teen suicide. As Paul put it:

“We wanted to make sure the subject was treated thoughtfully and sensitively. There was vetting of the script and of the story with mental health professionals, to make sure what we were telling felt truthful and honest, and like we weren’t trying to sugarcoat things, but that also wasn’t trying to provoke anything. There’s a small change in the show that we made between Second Stage and Broadway, the addition of two little lines toward the very, very end of the show, that we added after some feedback that we’d gotten from families of teenagers or people who had taken their own lives.”

 

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TIME’s Susanna Schrobsdorff captures the incredible impact “Dear Evan Hansen” is having on teenagers—and their parents:

Ask one of the many teenagers in the audience if the play seems authentic and they can barely get the words out. They say things like, “I’m in shock, it’s so good.” And often, right behind them, is a parent who’s also feeling undone. I lost it in the first act when the two stellar actors who play mothers of teens sing about feeling totally unqualified for the job of being a parent. “Does anybody have a map?” they cry. “Anybody maybe happen to know how the hell to do this?”

Cornell’s Walk for Suicide Prevention

Cornell University’s Phi Sigma Pi (PSP) national honor fraternity sponsored a suicide prevention walk on April 28 to benefit The Sophie Fund of Ithaca and the national Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

“Phi Sigma Pi organized this walk because we wanted to increase campus conversation about mental health,” said PSP brother Elizabeth Cavic (’18), who studies Human Development in the College of Human Ecology. “We believe that people not engaging in these critical conversations about mental health perpetuates the stigma surrounding poor mental health, which contributes to further stigmatization.”

Scott MacLeod, a donor advisor of The Sophie Fund, thanked Cavic, her fellow PSP brothers, and all those who participated in the walk. “We’ve had the honor of working with Phi Sigma Pi on other mental health projects, and are very grateful for the support it gives to mental health awareness and suicide prevention efforts,” he said.

MacLeod and his wife Susan Hack established The Sophie Fund in 2016 to support mental health initiatives aiding young people in the Ithaca area. The fund is in memory of their daughter, Sophie Hack MacLeod (’14), who died by suicide in Ithaca in March 2016.

PSP is a co-educational fraternity open to undergraduate students that embraces the ideals of scholarship, leadership, and fellowship. The PSP Beta Nu Chapter at Cornell was founded in 1994 and has about 80 active members in a given semester.

[If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the national Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.]

Emma Stone’s Story

Emma Stone, who won the 2016 Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in La La Land, has kicked off the Child Mind Institute’s #MyYoungerSelf video series for Mental Health Awareness Month. The 28-year-old Stone discusses her struggles with anxiety and panic disorder.

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Watch the video, and read the transcript:

Hi I’m Emma.

What I would tell kids that are going through anxiety, which I have and can relate to, is that you’re so normal it’s crazy. So many people—I mean, to say that “you’re so normal, it’s crazy” is a pretty funny thing to say—but, it is so normal.

Everyone experiences a version of anxiety or worry in their lives. And maybe we go through it in a different or more intense way for longer periods of time. But there’s nothing wrong with you.

To be a sensitive person, that cares a lot, that takes things in in a deep way, is actually part of what makes you amazing. And is one of the greatest gifts of life. You think a lot, and you feel a lot, and you feel deeply. And it’s the best. The trade off—I wouldn’t trade it for the world, even when there are really hard times. There are so many tools you can use to help yourself in those times.

It does gets better and easier as life goes on, and you start to get to know yourself more and what will trigger certain instances of anxiety and where you feel comfortable and safe.

So, I would just say, don’t ever feel like you are a weirdo for it. We are all weirdos!

#MyYoungerSelf is a series of honest stories from public figures about growing up with a mental health or learning disorder—what they would tell their younger selves about mental health. Click here to keep track of all the videos in the series throughout Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States.

#MyYoungerSelf is part of the institute’s annual public education campaign, Speak Up for Kids, which promotes awareness of children’s mental health issues and providing needed information to families, educators, the media, and policymakers. Speak Up for Kids aims to counter the stigma for the one in five children struggling with mental health or learning disorders.

The Child Mind Institute is an independent, national nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders. Its teams work “to deliver the highest standards of care, advance the science of the developing brain, and empower parents, professionals, and policymakers to support children when and where they need it most.”

Click here to read Refinery 29’s story about the Emma Stone video

Click here to read Vogue’s article on Emma Stone.

 

When Someone You Know Has Depression

Dr. Susan J. Noonan, author of When Someone You Know Has Depression: Words to Say and Things to Do, will be the featured guest speaker at a “Readings on Mental Health” event on April 30 sponsored by the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County and hosted by Buffalo Street Books.

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Noonan’s latest book is a concise and practical guide to caring for someone who has depression or bipolar disorder, offering specific suggestions for what to say or do to cope with impaired thinking and fluctuating moods. The book contains chapters on mood disorders, signs of depression, support and communication strategies, finding professional help, and caring for caregivers.

When Someone You Know Has Depression, a companion volume to Noonan’s 2013 book Managing Your Depression: What You Can Do to Feel Better, draws on evidence-based medical information as well as her own first-hand experience of living with a mood disorder. As a physician she has treated, supported, and educated those living with and those caring for a person who has a mood disorder. Noonan is a Certified Peer Specialist at McLean Hospital and a consultant to Massachusetts General Hospital and CliGnosis.

Noonan’s appearance launches “Readings on Mental Health,” a 2017 series featuring authors of books on mental health topics made possible by a grant from The Sophie Fund.

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Amy Dickinson’s Story

Love, loss, and coming home: Our own Amy Dickinson, the Freeville girl who went on to succeed advice-dishing queen Ann Landers as the “Ask Amy” syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune, is on a book tour with her latest memoir, Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: Love, Loss, and Coming Home.

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Dickinson famously grew up on a Tompkins County dairy farm and traveled the world living in Washington, New York, Chicago, and London before returning home and marrying a local guy she knew from childhood. Some of this adventure was chronicled in The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Story of Surprising Second Chances, a 2009 memoir about being a single mom. “Ask Amy” is a daily advice column carried by 150 newspapers and read by an estimated 22 million people.

NPR’s Scott Simon interviewed Dickinson from Ithaca for  Weekend Edition on March 11 (transcript and audio clip via NPR):

Listen to the interview by clicking above

SCOTT SIMON: So what’s a sophisticated urbanite like you doing in Freeville, New York?

AMY DICKINSON: Oh, not much, you know. I mean, just today I was at the Queen Diner with my aunts because that’s what we do once a week. We meet at the diner. You know, I live in my hometown. It’s—I’m right back where I started surrounded by people I went to high school with. And I don’t know if I could have done this at another phase in my life, but it just feels right.

SCOTT SIMON: It’s interesting reading this book. You learned a lot from the example of both of your parents, but they were substantially different lessons.

AMY DICKINSON: Right. I was very fortunate to have been raised by my mother, Jane, who was a really—just a great parent. She was fun. She was lively, and she really seemed to enjoy being a mother. My father, on the other hand, old Buck, was like a world-class abandoner. He left us. He left subsequent families. He left women. He left people in his wake. And he just—you know, I think of him now as, like, an old restless cowboy.

SCOTT SIMON: That’s being very kind.

AMY DICKINSON: It is being kind, actually.

SCOTT SIMON: With the advantage of a certain amount of hindsight now, did that make love more difficult for you?

AMY DICKINSON: Oh, yeah, definitely. It’s like he was this linchpin I measured all other men against, and I was often overcorrecting, may I say. So, yeah, I veered back and forth. My first husband very, very, very unlike—as unlike my father as I could find, but that also meant that he and I didn’t have a lot in common.

SCOTT SIMON: So you get back home where you started in Freeville, and you meet all over again a guy named Bruno.

AMY DICKINSON: Yeah. You know, I’ve known him most of my life. I think we met when I was 12. Bruno has never lived any more than five miles away from where he was born. And I came home. He is a very well-known local builder, and I came home, and I wanted to renovate my little house. And everybody said, “Oh, you should call Bruno, call Bruno.” And I finally called Bruno, and he came to my house and he opened the door – it was fall. And, Scott, it was just—you know that scene in “The Quiet Man” when John Wayne opens the door to Maureen O’Hara’s little cottage? And he…

SCOTT SIMON: Yeah, hello, Mary Kate.

AMY DICKINSON: Mary Kate Danaher.

SCOTT SIMON: Yeah.

AMY DICKINSON: He filled the door frame and these leaves were kicked up behind him. And it was this incredibly dramatic moment in my life when Bruno blew in, you know, in my door. Yeah, and we fell—we just fell in love immediately.

SCOTT SIMON: In the course of this book, your mother declines and then dies. And that’s very moving the way you trace that in the book. You don’t like this term that we’ve heard so much over the past generation—closure.

AMY DICKINSON: Yeah, really—I mean, do you have it?

SCOTT SIMON: No, no, no, I know exactly what you mean. You don’t close it. You go on.

AMY DICKINSON: Right. If you love someone fiercely, you’re not going to close the book on that. And honestly, I felt that the whole closure concept was really a—you know, just thinking that I might get closure I think delayed my healing from this loss. My mother was frail. She suffered. I was with her. I helped to take care of her. No one could have been more prepared for someone’s death than I was. And I just had no idea that the loss would have such magnitude for me. It was very, very tough.

SCOTT SIMON: You know what I’ve concluded, Amy? And I hope our children don’t hear this. You don’t really grow up until you lose your parents.

AMY DICKINSON: It certainly puts you in a whole other life phase. It’s incredibly profound, and the process—and I know you were with your mother and I was with my mother. And to me, it felt—it really did feel analogous to the birth process, this really potent, very powerful life process. And I was glad that I was there.

SCOTT SIMON: I finished the book and then turned back to the dedication: “This book is dedicated a memory of my mother, Jane Genung Dickinson, who taught me that life is a memory.” Not a cabaret?

AMY DICKINSON: Not quite.

SCOTT SIMON: Why…

AMY DICKINSON: Oh, but I wish, you know?

SCOTT SIMON: Yeah, but why a memory?

AMY DICKINSON: Well, she told me once that she wanted that on her tombstone. My mother had a very dreamy, introspective quality, and I think she always lived in her head to a certain extent. And I loved that about her. We were very different in that regard. But I always really treasured that about her, the idea that there was a lot going on that she wasn’t necessarily revealing. I liked it.

SCOTT SIMON: Do other people’s problems ever—do you carry them home?

AMY DICKINSON: I do. You know, when I run a letter in my column, for instance, about someone who has been sexually assaulted and is suffering or has been abused, say, by a parent, I will then hear from dozens, sometimes over 100, other people who have had a similar experience. And the magnitude of that will really, really weigh me down sometimes. And yet, that’s exactly what this column is all about. It’s just about our commonality. You know, I feel very, very connected to the people who write to me. And yeah, I have to work hard sometimes not to take on the weight of some of this stuff.

hd1-Amy_Dickenson-2014-cAmy Dickinson (Tribune Content Agency)