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?”

Mayor Svante Myrick: Support Suicide Prevention

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick issued a proclamation Wednesday in support of The Watershed Declaration, a commitment by local mental health stakeholders to intensify efforts to prevent suicide in the community.

MyrickMacLeodMarvin

“I call upon our citizens, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, health care providers, and educational institutions to raise awareness of Ithaca’s mental health support services, encourage those in need to seek treatment, honor those in our community we have lost too soon, and commit to an all-out effort to prevent suicide,” Svante said in issuing the proclamation at the start of the Ithaca Common Council meeting Wednesday evening.

The Watershed Declaration was adopted by acclamation at the close of a meeting held on April 17 of leaders from Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca, non-profit organizations, and the campuses of Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College. The declaration termed suicide a “serious public health concern” and pledged to intensify suicide prevention efforts in Ithaca and Tompkins County.

Myrick said there is strong evidence that a comprehensive public health approach is effective in preventing suicide, and called on the community’s health and behavioral health systems to prevent suicide deaths using the best available information and practices.

Moreover, Myrick said, “every member of our community can play a role in protecting their friends, family members, and colleagues from suicide. Our community needs to advance suicide prevention by fighting the stigma around mental health and seeking treatment for mental disorders.”

Lee-Ellen Marvin, executive director of the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service in Ithaca, expressed her gratitude for “the mayor’s support for reinvigorating our community’s commitment to suicide prevention. The need has never been greater. Unfortunately, suicide rates have been increasing in the last 15 to 20 years.”

“This proclamation is highlighting the need to address suicide prevention,” said Sharon MacDougall, deputy commissioner of Mental Health Services in Tompkins County. MacDougall added that her agency is working with the New York State Office of Mental Health to create a Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition. “Selected key stakeholders will be invited to a planning meeting to start the Tompkins Suicide Prevention Coalition this summer,” she said. “This coalition will help coordinate the efforts of multiple agencies, providers and others to improve suicide prevention across Tompkins.”

Proclamation

The Watershed Declaration was adopted by acclamation at a meeting of 18 organizations hosted by The Sophie Fund, which was established in memory of Cornell University art student Sophie Hack MacLeod to promote improved mental health for young people in the greater Ithaca area.

The Watershed Declaration stated:

“We the assembled mental health stakeholders of the greater Ithaca community and Tompkins County recognize suicide as a serious public health concern. Today we renew our commitment to suicide prevention and pledge to intensify efforts toward saving lives and bringing hope to those struggling with suicide thoughts or affected by suicide loss.”

Photo caption: Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, The Sophie Fund Co-Donor Advisor Scott MacLeod, and Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service Executive Director Lee-Ellen Marvin

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.]

13 Reasons Why: Warning Label

The new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why is generating alarm among many mental health professionals and suicide prevention experts, who are concerned about the risks of glamorizing suicide and the possibility of contagion.

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Netflix kicked up a controversy with the series released on March 31 about a high school junior named Hannah who takes her own life. The series received a 91 percent critics approval rating and an 88 percent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics praised the cast’s performances and the “authentic,” “sensitive,” and “hard hitting” portrayal of teenager angst.

However, 13 Reasons Why needs a warning label. The National Association of School Psychologists cautions that the series should not be viewed by vulnerable young people who experience any degree of suicidal ideation. NASP warns:

“Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies. They may easily identify with the experiences portrayed and recognize both the intentional and unintentional effects on the central character. Unfortunately, adult characters in the show, including the second school counselor who inadequately addresses Hannah’s pleas for help, do not inspire a sense of trust or ability to help.”

NASP has problems with the accuracy of how mental illness and suicide are portrayed in the series. For example, it is concerned that the series does not emphasize that common among most suicide deaths is the presence of treatable mental illnesses. And that suicide is not the simple consequence of stressors or coping challenges, but rather, it is most typically a combined result of treatable mental illnesses and overwhelming or intolerable stressors.

Despite the strong misgivings, some see the widespread publicity around 13 Reason Why as an opportunity at least to spread greater awareness about suicide and suicide prevention. NASP says that the controversy is an “opportunity to better understand young people’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings,” educate parents, teachers, and students alike about suicide risk warning signs, and reinforce the message that suicide is not a solution to problems.

NASP advises that school psychologists and other school-employed mental health professionals can assist stakeholders such as school administrators, parents, and teachers to engage in supportive conversations with students as well as provide resources and offer expertise in preventing harmful behaviors. NASP published “Considerations for Educators,” guidance on 13 Reasons Why. Download it here.

Experts say if you’re thinking about the safest and best way to lead a discussion with teens about 13 Reasons Why and suicide, read the tip sheet co-authored by Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) and the JED Foundation. Click here to download the tip sheet.

Some recommended reading from experts on the subject of suicide contagion:

Preventing Suicide With A “Contagion Of Strength” (National Public Radio February 25, 2015)

The Science Behind Suicide Contagion (New York Times, August 14, 2014)

Teen suicide: Prevention is Contagious, Too (Christian Science Monitor, December 8, 2013)

[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.]

The Watershed Declaration

Community mental health stakeholders representing 18 organizations on Monday declared suicide a “serious public health concern” and pledged to intensify suicide prevention efforts in Ithaca and Tompkins County.

GarraLloyd-Lester                       Garra Lloyd-Lester, associate director of the Suicide Prevention Center New York

The call to action, known as The Watershed Declaration, was adopted by acclamation at the close of a meeting of leaders from Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca, non-profit organizations, and the campuses of Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College.

The Watershed Declaration stated as follows:

“We the assembled mental health stakeholders of the greater Ithaca community and Tompkins County recognize suicide as a serious public health concern. Today we renew our commitment to suicide prevention and pledge to intensify efforts toward saving lives and bringing hope to those struggling with suicide thoughts or affected by suicide loss.”

Lee-Ellen Marvin, executive director of the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service in Ithaca, praised the call to action. “I was excited and moved to see leaders from different parts of our social service community together in one room, thinking about and committing to suicide prevention,” she said. “There is indeed a public health crisis, and the way to prevent suicide is with awareness, vigilance, and the willingness of all parts of society to commit to this effort.”

Addressing the gathering at The Watershed in Ithaca, Garra Lloyd-Lester, associate director of the Suicide Prevention Center New York, announced plans to convene a “key stakeholders” meeting in June with the aim of establishing a suicide prevention coalition in Tompkins County.

Lloyd-Lester explained that suicide is increasingly seen as a public health problem rather than just an issue to be handled by an individual and their therapist.

“Operationally, that means we can all play a role in helping individuals who might be struggling with thoughts of suicide, to help keep them safe,” said Lloyd-Lester. “Seeing the folks here today it is really reflective of this idea that suicide is everybody’s business. That is the mantra that the state talks about: suicide prevention is everybody’s business.”

Sharon MacDougall, Deputy Commissioner of Mental Health Services in Tompkins County, welcomed the state’s initiative. “Suicide prevention efforts in Tompkins County are strong and need collaboration among all our agencies, providers, and groups like The Sophie Fund,” she said. “A Suicide Prevention Coalition will help bring these efforts together in close collaboration—providing a unified and passionate Tompkins County voice advocating zero suicides in our county.”

Monday’s meeting was organized by The Sophie Fund, which advocates for improved mental health for young people in the greater Ithaca area.