Luc Le

The Kids Aren’t Alright: Examining Depictions of Depression and Anxiety in Popular Fiction

Mentor: Michelle Grue

My project is a longform critical piece that analyzes the often fraught depictions of teenage depression and anxiety in popular culture. Teenage depression has long been a significant yet underreported and therefore undertreated disease. As recently as 2019, nearly 4 million adolescent Americans reported at least one major depressive episode, yet less than half received treatment. In recent years depression-centric narratives like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Dear Evan Hansen, and All the Bright Places have garnered both attention and controversy in print, film, and even Broadway, bringing the conversation around teenage mental health into the spotlight. While some of these depictions have been praised for promoting empathy and understanding, others have been criticized for including graphic or even sensationalized representations of teen depression and suicide. These depictions, fictional as they may be, contribute to the larger societal discourse on teen mental health. In this project, I will examine a selection of culturally impactful young adult works centering on depression and ask: How do young adult stories portray teenage depression? Whose stories are highlighted, and whose are left out? How might the existing depictions affect a population that, in the wake of the pandemic, reports higher rates of depression and anxiety than ever? And how do these narratives contribute to our collective societal understanding of depression and change the way we perceive, discuss, and therefore treat teenage mental illness?

Read Lucas’s essay series The Kids Aren’t Alright