There is a mental health crisis in this country. It is scary, wide-reaching, and deadly. And, just like every other crisis, people are capitalizing at the expense of others.
According to a Pew Research Center study published on February 20, 70 percent of children aged 13 to 17 believe that depression and anxiety are major issues that kids their age deal with.
And rightfully so. In 2017 alone, 7.4% of high schoolers attempted suicide, and at least 17% seriously considered it, according to the CDC.
These statistics are concerning. More Americans than ever, especially kids, are being diagnosed with various mental health problems. This can be partially attributed to more effective diagnostic techniques, but even more are suffering, undiagnosed and untreated.
In late November, “Dear Evan Hansen,” the critically acclaimed Broadway show and winner of six Tony Awards, announced that it would return to Los Angeles on its next national tour, 2020-2021.
But I have a request: don’t come back.
“Dear Evan Hansen,” a musical that touts its support for those struggling with mental illness, is a detriment to the community it claims to support. And the producers either don’t know, or don’t care.
The plot follows the story of Evan Hansen—a high school student with social anxiety—as he crafts a narrative about a fake friendship between himself and Connor Murphy, Evan’s bully who commits suicide early in the show. The show paints the story of a kid who overcomes his social anxiety in order to preserve the memory of Connor, whom no one really liked until he died.
But the show glosses over the real issue. Not the lie that Evan fabricated, the social anxiety he overcomes, or the strange, unhealthy love story between Evan and Connor’s sister.
The real issue is that the characters in “Dear Evan Hansen” glorify Connor’s suicide. The way his death and postmortem legacy is portrayed is dangerous to those, especially school-age children, who suffer from depression and suicidal ideations.
Having suffered from depression and suicidal ideations from an early age, I can confidently say that this show will eventually push someone over the edge, if it hasn’t already.
If someone is having dangerous thoughts and feels that they are disliked by a lot of people, this show will lead them to believe that suicide is a reasonable option. After all, nobody liked Connor until he killed himself. After he did, he was universally loved. This sends a dangerous message and really does no good in the process.
The producers exploit the experience of mental illness to make a buck. Actually, a lot of bucks: “Dear Evan Hansen” grossed over $1.9 million in the final week of 2018 alone, with some tickets approaching $500, according to The Broadway League.
In an attempt to deflect criticism, the producers released a “Dear Evan Hansen” study guide meant to help teachers discuss the show in an educational setting. Not surprisingly, the study guide doesn’t discuss mental health until page 27 of the 34-page booklet, and doesn’t mention resources until page 28.
The study guide fails to mention some startling statistics. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 3.1 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 have had a major depressive episode in the last year.
For an issue that is so widespread and pervasive, it seems odd that the preamble to these resources would include why the choreographer decided to include certain dance elements.
In reality, this “study guide” is just a sham to convince schools that seeing the show is an important and educational experience.
I love musicals and plays. I’ve seen over a hundred myself, and I feel that many have great educational value for a plethora of reasons. But “Dear Evan Hansen” does more harm than good. And there is nothing the producers can do to change it; this damaging content is ingrained into the fabric of the show.
So as a person with clinical depression, I’m pleading:
Dear Evan Hansen,
Please stop. You’re killing children.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-SAFE (7233)
Mental Health Services Administration Treatment Referral Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)