Thousands were looking forward to the release of the movie “Dear Evan Hansen”, formerly a Broadway Musical, for its spotlight on teen mental health and suicide. Unfortunately the movie, starring Ben Platt and Kaitlyn Denver, aims to tackle the stigma against mental health, but sends the wrong idea.
The movie is centered around the suicide of a young boy, Connor Murphy, after years struggling with drug abuse and depression. His suicide story is publicized after Evan Hansen’s inspirational speech goes viral on social media, and results in the creation of the Connor Project. Critically, the project is portrayed in a manner that many may interpret Murphy to have become a martyr for the cause – his suicide ultimately results in greater awareness for suicide and reaches the hearts of hundreds. Problematically, this approach risks glamorizing suicide, sending a message to teens that them becoming a martyr for the cause will help the greater good. While mental health awareness and suicide prevention is highly necessary, it should not come at the cost of further hurting the mission.
Beyond that, the protagonist, Hansen, becomes a board member for the Connor Project soon after its creation. While this initially serves as an outlet for Hansen, who is also suffering from severe anxiety and depression, to express his beliefs and make a change, it eventually becomes a burden for him. After being brought together with the Murphy family following Connor’s suicide, Evan finally finds the social life and companion he has been looking for, Connor’s sister, Zoe. Evan starts reallocating time from the Connor Project to his personal life, and faces backlash from the other project members.
As a teen suffering from social anxiety and depression, Evan should in no way be obligated to share his story and donate his time to the cause. It is the duty of the privileged to take the steps to further the cause, not the duty of marginalized communities to exhaust themselves in educating the public. With the mission of portraying the importance of mental health, Evan taking time to prioritize his self-care ought to be a golden moment for the movie.
Finally, as a movie generating awareness about teens’ mental health, “Dear Evan Hansen” is ironically counterproductive. It goes without saying that the movie should take all steps necessary to prevent further mental health deterioration. Unfortunately, the movie is rather hypocritical as it details mental health and suicide anecdotes with no trigger warning whatsoever. The extent to which the movie graphically depicts the repercussions of mental illness and glamorizes suicide is particularly detrimental for teens already struggling with mental health and risks sending kids into a downward spiral.
The Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” received backlash for glamorizing suicide and began issuing trigger warnings at the start of every episode. “Dear Evan Hansen” ought to have taken the cue, beginning the movie with a trigger warning for drug abuse and suicide and ending with links to suicide prevention hotlines.
As a movie intended to spotlight mental health and further the suicide prevention cause, “Dear Evan Hansen” has tragically failed to reach its goal.