What 'Dear Evan Hansen' Gets Right About Mental Illness
The Original Broadway Cast recording of “Dear Evan Hansen” was released on February 3. For those who don’t follow Broadway, this probably went unnoticed. But that is such a shame because the message of the show is absolutely phenomenal.
The story follows Evan Hansen, a teenager who broke his arm falling out of a tree. Typical, right? Not exactly. Evan has social anxiety. His therapist tells him to write daily letters to encourage himself, hence the title “Dear Evan Hansen.” Evan later becomes accidentally involved with the family of another high schooler, who has depression and dies by suicide shortly into the show. To cover up a mistake, Evan fakes a close friendship with this boy. The boy’s parents adore him, treating Evan like the son who their drug-addicted, sometimes abusive son never was. Evan begins to connect with the memory of Connor, even starting a foundation to keep his memory alive. Evan speaks out about depression, Connor, and reaching out for help. It is later revealed that the fall from the tree was not an accident but a suicide attempt.
Evan’s story could have become many things. It could have been about a moody teenager who makes a big deal out of everything and cannot get a grip on reality. But it isn’t. It could have been about a dangerous teenager who cannot let go of memories and becomes a bully. But it isn’t. It could have been a feel-good story about a boy who just cares so much about everybody and everything and becomes all better in the end. But it isn’t. “Dear Evan Hansen” doesn’t romanticize or vilify mental illness, but it also doesn’t sugarcoat it. Connor is a drug addict. Evan does attempt suicide. But instead of comparing himself to Connor, Evan sees himself, a boy who has been forgotten, who has disappeared.
This is what we need more of. The media is full of stories about people with mental illness who either are “too dangerous” to be around or who are “cured” by a miracle tea and yoga. But this story shows a struggle nobody sees in a boy who has faded into the background.
The other side of the equation is how the people in the show react to mental illness. Instead of blaming Connor or Evan for their illnesses, people relate to them and are encouraged. That is how the world should react, supporting each other and building each other up instead of tearing down. Suicide rates are way too high for issues like this to be taken lightly. So many people need help and don’t get treatment because it isn’t available, they are afraid of other’s reactions, or because they don’t understand it. Instead of letting these differences divide us, they should make us stronger because where some are week, others are strong.
Shows like “Dear Evan Hansen” bring incredible awareness to an issue that desperately needs help. If you haven’t already, I recommend listening to the cast recording (free on Spotify). Listen to it all the way through, in order, and it may help to look up a plot summary. The show is heart-wrenching and emotional but also incredibly encouraging. Don’t let such a beautiful show go unnoticed!
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
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Photo via Facebook – Dear Evan Hansen.