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What ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ Got Right About Its Portrayal of Teen Angst and Depression

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“I just took an antidepressant. I got them when my dad died. I only took them for, like, a month. But some people take them a lot longer. Always. But…you don’t think that makes me weird?”

“No, no it doesn’t. It’s fine. You’re fine.”

What a powerful exchange for those of us who take medication for mental health issues. This was a meaningful, albeit brief, conversation I saw on the big screen last night in the movie “The Edge of Seventeen.” In a movie where a young girl feels like she is different from everyone around her and hates everything that makes her different, I found I related a little more than I would like.

While Hailee Steinfeld (who plays the main character, Nadine) makes awkward appealing, I know how feeling that way can and does make you feel like your whole world may crash down at any moment. It can make you feel completely isolated and misunderstood. As we saw in the beginning of the movie, it can also make you feel suicidal.

The movie was funny enough to make her feelings feel temporary, truly only the problems of a teenager. However, when she said, “I hope I grow out of this,” I felt the audience was supposed to think, “Yes, you will.” Yet, I sat there thinking, “It only gets worse.”

There seems to be a fine line between teenage angst and clinical depression, but often the two are one in the same. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety when I was 13 years old. I started taking antidepressants then and never stopped.

I still feel the ambiguity in relationships and social exchanges that were supposed to get easier over the years. Instead, with the feeling of isolation, I developed behaviors that reinforced my isolation. My social anxiety grew, and it became physically painful to be in groups, especially if I had to participate in unstructured conversations and activities.

Walking into a group on my own, without a friend by my side, is enough to make me flake on joining the group at all. You feel set apart already. You feel a responsibility to protect people from experiencing an exchange with you, knowing for sure it will be as torturous for them as being with yourself is torturous for you.

The most accurate description in the movie was when the main character explains to her brother how she has always felt. She explains that ever since she was young it’s like she is above her body, hating every action and hating how she sounds and what she says. She’s trapped viewing these things, knowing all along that while many people don’t like her and stay away, she doesn’t like herself. She is stuck being with herself the rest of her life.

At the peak of her troubles, this makes her feel like she should escape being stuck. Many people, from time to time, see people whom they admire and whose lives they wish they could step into. When you are a person filled with self-hate and disappointment, this feeling is not only relegated to people you admire but almost anyone and everyone. Anything to escape the person you are, the person who experiences emotional pain every second of every day.

“The Edge of Seventeen” is a wonderfully poignant and tragically hilarious journey into the mind of teenage angst. I encourage you to see this movie, but keep in mind that the awkward, teenage experience you are watching may be amplified and experienced by the 32-year-old, overweight woman sitting next to you, laughing to keep from crying.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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Image via The Edge of Seventeen’s Facebook page.
Originally published: December 14, 2016
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