Mental Health Movie Review: Dear Evan Hansen

My wife and I haven’t been to a movie theater since before the pandemic. On a whim, we reserved seats this morning for a matinee showing of Dear Evan Hansen. Though we were masked up and fully vaxed (also boostered!), we were relieved to learn that we were the only people who bought tickets for that particular showing. That’s right, “The early bird gets the worm” and we had the big screen all to ourselves!

Given the mental health themes covered in this movie, I thought I’d do a little write-up for y’all today.

No spoilers here!

While you’ll have to do your own research for a plot synopsis of Dear Evan Hansen, I want to highlight the three main characters that embody various mental health conditions that are impacting today’s adolescents.

Connor

Connor is a high school student with a troubled past. He’s been to rehab, numerous mental health retreats, and residential treatment programs. While his diagnosis isn’t specifically given, it’s clear that he struggles with substance abuse, depression, anger, and possibly bipolar II disorder. The film is based around the events following Connor’s suicide, leading viewers through an emotional rollercoaster as Connor’s family, friends, and peers grieve this tragedy.

Evan

The story’s lead character, Evan Hansen is a high school senior with a medley of mental health challenges to include generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and depression. Like Connor, he also encounters bullying, social isolation, and suicidal ideation. Throughout the film, we see him navigate psychiatry (mental health medication) and psychotherapy (counseling).

Alana

From the outside, Alana appears to have all of her ducks in a row; after all, she’s the president of many of the school’s clubs and activist initiatives. Behind that veneer of excellence, we learn that Alana also struggles with depression, self-esteem challenges, anxiety, and rumination. Like Evan, she also takes mental health medication and speaks to a therapist.

I love the character of Alana, and not just because she’s played by phenomenal actress, Amandla Stenberg. Alana is a mental health warrior and advocate. I love how she normalizes (destigmatizes) things like taking medication and going to therapy. As a person living with panic disorder, I also resonate with Alana’s tendency to throw herself into a project as a means to cope with her anxiety. Why do y’all think I’ve put out five blog posts in the past ten days? Writing and podcasting are my outlets.

Here are some lyrics from Alana’s song in the film, “The Anonymous Ones,” that resonated most with me:

“Spot the girl who stays in motion
She spins so fast so she won’t fall
She’s built a wall with her achievements
To keep out the question
“Without it, is she worth anything at all?”
So nobody can know
Just what the cracks might show
How deep and dark they go”
“The anonymous ones
Never let you see the ache they carry
All of those anonymous ones
Who never name that quiet pain they bury
So they keep on keeping secrets that they think they have to hide
But what if everybody’s secret is they have that secret side?
And to know they’re somehow not alone
Well, that’s all they’re hoping for
What if they didn’t have to stay
Anonymous anymore?”

Appropriate Audiences

I know a lot of parents read my blog, so a review wouldn’t be complete without some considerations. As a therapist working with lots of depressed and anxious young people, I can see myself recommending this movie to several of my clients; HOWEVER, the movie’s content can be triggering for a number of reasons.

If your child struggles with suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, or addiction; assuming you already have them in therapy and/or psychiatry, I strongly encourage having a conversation about the aforementioned triggers before permitting them to see Dear Evan Hansen.

Disclaimer: This post is for information purposes only. Though I’m a licensed therapist, I am not YOUR therapist. Decision-making on content suitable for your child is up to the discretion of you and their mental health professional(s).

Conclusion

If I’m being honest, Dear Evan Hansen evoked the strongest emotional reaction of any movie I’ve ever seen. With a foundational message of “You are not alone,” it does a great job portraying the nuances of living with an invisible illness like depression and anxiety. Finally, I support any effort to reduce stigma, increase awareness, and to spark conversations around these important issues.

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2 thoughts on “Mental Health Movie Review: Dear Evan Hansen”

  1. It’s so rare to find a film that actually has nuanced portrayals of mental illness.

    1. Agreed! Thanks for reading, Ashley 🙂

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