“Dear Evan Hansen, today is going to be a good day and here’s why. Because today, you’re you.” This is the closing line of the Broadway musical, “Dear Evan Hansen.” While it might sound a little cliché, the musical itself is anything but. It was performed at the Fox Theatre these past few weeks. It was a fantastically produced musical that tackled many themes often avoided in society. The main character, Evan Hansen, is a teenage boy with severe social anxiety. He is tasked by his psychologist to write letters to himself about why that day will be a good day. Within the first few minutes of the musical, they directly address mental illness and the negative effects it can have. Later in the musical, another character takes his own life, further accentuating this point. Another theme that plays throughout the musical is loneliness and its effect on teenagers in today’s society. According to the American Society for Suicide Prevention, for 2015, there are, on average, 121 suicides per day in America. “Dear Evan Hansen” addresses mental illness and loneliness in a visceral and personal way, proving that society needs to take greater action in it’s handling of the rising mental illness and suicide rates among teens.
Within the first few minutes of the musical, before even the first musical number, the main character, Evan Hansen, is shown to have crippling social anxiety, takes medication for it and consistently goes to counseling. This shows that he is doing everything “right.” He is trying to get better, and yet he still has severe anxiety. The second musical number, “Waving Through a Window,” displays this. As someone with anxiety, this song almost made me cry. Evan hates himself and he hates that no one really wants to be friends with him. He hides the worst parts of himself, or at least tries to. The beauty of the musical is that they refuse to dance around the issues of mental illness, specifically anxiety. While society attempts to hide those who feel this way, and make it seem unnatural and irregular, “Dear Evan Hansen,” refused to listen to the status quo. While mental illness is by no means an easy subject to tackle, by discussing it, the musical makes it a little less taboo. It refuses to flinch, deciding instead to stand firm and make a strong statement about mental illness. It says, we, as a community, need to take notice of those who are struggling.
High school is a prime example of people struggling, and yet people choose to look away. Many teenagers go through high school feeling isolated and alone, just like Hansen. We try to hide what we consider the worst parts of ourselves, but that just inevitably leads to greater isolation. While so many people dance around to try to avoid the issue, this play decides to attempt to tackle this issue and give a solution to such a giant problem. They show that even when you feel alone, no one is ever truly alone, and it will be okay.
They normalize this feeling of loneliness and hopelessness, so that people watching it know that they are not alone and they will survive. In the song, “You Will be Found,” one of the singers says, “Every time you call out, you’re a little less alone.” And she could not be more correct. Every time someone stands up and admits to feeling lonely or anxious, everyone feels a little less lost. By creating a conversation about these issues, the shame that normally follows these issues fades. This allows for people to gain courage in themselves and know that they are not alone or broken because of these feelings. “Dear Evan Hansen” created a platform for people to start discussing isolation and mental illness in a way that doesn’t shame those who have been affected by it. Starting this conversation is the first step in creating a community that gives mental health the same validity as physical health.