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?”

Anxieties of the Post-9/11 Generation

TIME magazine has published a must-read article by Susanna Schrobsdorff on the epidemic of depression and anxiety affecting young Americans. Every parent should be aware of the mental health challenges being faced by millions of our kids.

As Schrobsdorff writes, “They are the post-9/11 generation, raised in an era of economic and national insecurity. They’ve never known a time when terrorism and school shootings weren’t the norm. They grew up watching their parents weather a severe recession, and, perhaps most important, they hit puberty at a time when technology and social media were transforming society.”

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The TIME article provides insights into real-life adolescent struggles:

The first time Faith-Ann Bishop cut herself, she was in eighth grade. It was 2 in the morning, and as her parents slept, she sat on the edge of the tub at her home outside Bangor, Maine, with a metal clip from a pen in her hand. Then she sliced into the soft skin near her ribs. There was blood–and a sense of deep relief. “It makes the world very quiet for a few seconds,” says Faith-Ann. “For a while I didn’t want to stop, because it was my only coping mechanism. I hadn’t learned any other way.”

The pain of the superficial wound was a momentary escape from the anxiety she was fighting constantly, about grades, about her future, about relationships, about everything. Many days she felt ill before school. Sometimes she’d throw up, other times she’d stay home. “It was like asking me to climb Mount Everest in high heels,” she says.

The statistics provide another kind of illustration:

In 2015, about 3 million teens ages 12 to 17 had had at least one major depressive episode in the past year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 2 million report experiencing depression that impairs their daily function. About 30% of girls and 20% of boys–totaling 6.3 million teens–have had an anxiety disorder, according to data from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Experts suspect that these statistics are on the low end of what’s really happening, since many people do not seek help for anxiety and depression. A 2015 report from the Child Mind Institute found that only about 20% of young people with a diagnosable anxiety disorder get treatment. It’s also hard to quantify behaviors related to depression and anxiety, like nonsuicidal self-harm, because they are deliberately secretive.

Read the entire article online here or download a pdf here.

Starting the Conversation

Talk to each other… it may save a life…

“Starting the Conversation” is an excellent new guide helping students (and parents) to learn about mental health conditions and signs that need serious attention—and how to talk about them. One in five students will experience a mental health condition in college.

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The guide explains why it is so important to have conversations and create awareness—including among students and their parents.

“Conversations allow you to plan for the unexpected; to know what to do if you develop emotional distress, a mental health condition or if an existing condition worsens. Talking about mental health is important even if you don’t experience a mental health condition because a friend may need help. Students often prefer to confide in a friend before confiding in anyone else—or you may notice that a peer is struggling and you may be able to assist. By learning more, you’ll be better equipped to know what to do if you or a friend is in distress.”

Click here to download “Starting the Conversation.” It was released yesterday for the start of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month 2016 by the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) and The Jed Foundation.

Here’s a sample:

STRESSORS THAT MAY AFFECT MENTAL HEALTH

Relationship breakups

Academic pressures

Poor grades

Financial stress

Social status pressures

Feeling alone or homesick

Feeling marginalized, misunderstood or like you don’t fit in

Concern or worry about your family members at home

Loss of day-to-day family or community support

Drug and alcohol use

Inadequate sleep

Feeling overwhelmed

Grief

Gender and sexuality questioning

Friendship challenges

Sports team losses

Unmet expectations

Read TIME magazine’s report this week on the “Starting the Conversation” guide.

Active Minds is a student organization with branches on college campuses throughout the USA and Canada devoted to “changing the conversation about mental health.” Active Minds is promoting awareness activities this month: click here to read their guide for getting involved.

For parents, a good video to watch is Not My Kid: What Every Parent Should Know. The video was produced by the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide.