You Will Be Found: Insight Into Teen Mental Health: A Roundtable led by Dear Evan Hansen, Time and Philosophy Hope and Grace Initiative by Robin Gorman Newman

I am a huge fan of the Tony Award winning Broadway musical, Dear Evan Hansen, and have had the opportunity to see it twice, once with my then 14 year old middle school age son.

He is now 15, and a freshman in high school, and he seems light years older since we saw the show, though still a young teen with much growth and uncertainty ahead of him.

It’s been decades since I was myself a high school student (I have very fond memories of that phase of my life), and we live in an entirely different culture these days….one that is highly challenging for both parents and teens….largely in light of social media and it’s potential impact on well-being and mental health.  There is nothing that quite prepares you as a mother to navigate a newfound high tech world with your teen, given that it is uncharted territory for most of us.

To commemorate Mental Health Month this May, and in an effort to shed light on an important subject and empower families, TIME magazine joined forces with Dear Evan Hansen and the Philosophy Hope and Grace Initiative to take on the topic of You Will be Found.  They hosted a mental health roundtable this past week at the headquarters downtown NYC of Meredith Corporation, publishers of TIME magazine.

It was a privilege to be invited to attend….not only because of my love of Dear Evan Hansen, but for the conversation that resulted and the insight I gained….more than anticipated…..from the experts and others sharing their knowledge and real life experience.

Stacey Mindich, Dear Evan Hansen Producer, set the stage, literally, with some welcoming open remarks, and turned the dialogue over to Steven Levenson, Dear Evan Hansen Book Writer, and Dr. Harold Koplewicz, President, Child Mind Institute.  They discussed Diagnosing Evan Hansen: What we can learn from the struggles of this iconic character.  I have long heard wonderful things about Child Mind Institute, so it was a valued opportunity to hear the wise and highly experienced Dr. Koplewicz weigh in on the subject.  And, highly engrossing to hear the back story of the making of Dear Evan Hansen, the inspiration for the story line and heartfelt takeaway of the show, making the characters’ experiences all the more real, raw and relevant.  Levenson explained that the story came from a “dramatic vs. a diagnostic place.” “We landed on the idea….what makes people desperate to connect?  Even if it meant not necessarily being honest about it, but somehow finding a community.  What would it mean to have a character who can’t connect?  That he is so desperate to connect but is unable.  That was the beginning. Who is this person?  Why is he so unable to break through those barriers that he sees all around him?  He looks around and sees his peers on social media, and everyone else is so active, and why isn’t he?!  From that spilled out this character.”

Dr. Koplewicz shed light on some of the other student characters in the musical…..

“Alana (Evan’s classsmate) is this very anxious, A+ brown nose kind of kid who is just so insecure that she has to be Connor’s best friend or president of the club.

Jared (Evan’s classmate and the closest thing he has ever had to a friend) – is a nerdy kid and not socially high on the totem pole.   The kid who is the best athlete and jock is at the top of the totem pole.

When you see these characters, it’s very easy to think back to high school.”

Levenson added, “In writing the show, we started to really feel like all of these characters were struggling to connect in one way or another.  Living in a world that feels increasingly isolating and impossible to navigate.”

Following them was a panel entitled How Are You Really? addressing Mental health in the age of social media.  Featured were Susanna Schrobsdorff, Columnist and Executive Editor, TIME Magazine, who served as Moderator, Rowan Blanchard, Actor & Activist, John MacPhee, Executive Director/CEO, The Jed Foundation, and Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, President, National Crittenton.

One of the points that likeable and forthcoming teen actress Rowan discussed was that many teens are not inclined to share their sadness or depression for fear of it “being dismissed or reducted to angst.” That parents would be well-served not to suggest that a given scenario or phase will pass, but rather to acknowledge it, so that the teen feels heard. Teenagers feel things in a big way because they have no prior experience with certain situations or “survivor tool box,” stated Rowan, and there is so much pressure on teenagers now because parents don’t necessarily have the answers, yet teens are taught for years to go to their parents with questions and concerns.

(Cast of Dear Evan Hansen and event participants)

Following the lively panels, the audience had an opportunity to pose questions, and the finale was a performance by the cast of Dear Evan Hansen….a powerhouse treat!

Kudos to all involved for addressing a topic that can never get enough attention, and one that is ever-evolving.  And, what could be more important to those of us parenting teens?!  The more we endeavor to educate ourselves and strive to understand where they are coming from, the better we are able to offer strong shoulders they can rely on and to keep the doors of communication as open as possible.


  1. One Response to “You Will Be Found: Insight Into Teen Mental Health: A Roundtable led by Dear Evan Hansen, Time and Philosophy Hope and Grace Initiative by Robin Gorman Newman”

  2. This is an incredible event! So glad you were able to attend. I haven’t seen the play yet, but I’m going to when it comes to our area later this year. You know the topic of teen mental health is something very close to my heart. Thanks for writing this.

    By Sharon ODonnell on May 14, 2018