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The Hollywood Insider Mental Health in Euphoria

Photo: ‘Euphoria’

The hit drama series, ‘Euphoria’ follows the lives of a group of teens as they tackle the complexities of high school alongside the darkness of teenage sex, drugs, and above all mental illness. Season 1 followed Rue and Jules, two young girls who struggle with drug addiction and depression.

Euphoria’s Astounding Success Among Teens and Young Adults

 Season 2 leaves off right where the last episode ended, with more sex, more parties, more broken households, and teens who struggle to find themselves. The show was a massive success, with high ratings and crazy fandoms that adored Zendaya’s portrayal of Rue and more than that enjoyed fantasizing about a high school experience full of as much nudity and partying as those who attend Euphoria High. 

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The show is not without its criticism, however. The producers and writers tend to prioritize style and cinematography over dialogue. The latter tends to fall short, with unrealistic conversations or gets interrupted by a sex sequence or music number that overshadows the important twist or reveal. More than the argument over the writing style, there is a lot of deliberation about the heavy incorporation of mental illness and mental health disorders. Almost every character suffers from an ailment, a twist of fate that makes their time at Euphoria High marginally more difficult, and their journey to self-discovery and understanding are just as difficult. 

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Brutal But Honest Depiction of Mental Health Issues At Euphoria High

Most viewers are shocked by the brutal depiction of sensitive topics like sex, drug use, and self-harm but more those who have yearned to see realistic mental health representation in film for ages, appreciate the harsh truth and candidness. Dealing with reoccurring mental illness or substance use disorders means lots of dark and gritty times and thoughts and experiences, lots of hard truths that can be tough pills to swallow but are a testament to the difficulty of being diagnosed. The unique perspective ‘Euphoria’ takes helps reflect this, using a platform to raise awareness about mental illness and substance use disorder by offering a hard to watch but honest depiction that is missing from other TV shows and films (like 13 Reasons Why). 

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Most bittersweet is the show’s ability to show that mental illness is not a death sentence, one can recover and relapse and recover and so the cycle goes on. Nothing is picture-perfect or a textbook cure, instead we watch as characters like Rue and Jules fade in and out of difficult times in their lives. 

Rue Bennett: Anxiety, OCD, and SUD 

Rue Bennett is the protagonist of ‘Euphoria’ and is played by Zendaya. Rue battles substance use disorder and her character experience a common symptom of those with SUD – a bought of emotional turmoil and anxiety that originally inspired her use of drugs as a coping mechanism. Accurately, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that those with SUD and a co-occurring mental illness include over 7.9 million of the adults in the world. 

The frightening but necessary depiction of Rue’s experiences at rehab, outside of rehab where she struggles not to relapse or even her first time getting high as a child, are a struggle to watch but clearly show the lengths that those with SUD will go to stay high. The narration is the perfect parallel to these scenes, with Rue explaining the way she feels when the high hits, the stopping of the pain, the halting of her brain, and frenzied thoughts – she will chase it at all costs. And, just as in real life, this chase is the tipping point that turns substance misuse into a disorder, an important distinction that ‘Euphoria’ tackles with care and authenticity. 

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Rue’s character is important in proving that the ideal of self-control and resolve is more fragile than expected, especially for those with SUD or a form of mental illness. From the outside, it is easy to assume a place of superiority, to assume that the self-control comes easily, but ‘Euphoria’ accomplishes what other dark shows fail to do – it shows that the fragility of resolve is not just common but a stepping stone to the transition from recreation to survival. By using Rue as an example, the show and its writers demonstrate how the right trigger can be detrimental to those in recovery. This shift from craving to relapsing is not only accurate but difficult to watch too, as we see Rue sacrifice everything she loves for the sense of security and survival that drugs bring. 

‘Euphoria’ Shows the Many Faces of Mental Illness and Their Important Stories

‘Euphoria’ could have taken the traditional route in exploring mental illness on the TV screen, it surely would have been easier, less stressful, and expectant. But the HBO show does the opposite and those with mental illness or those who understand the convoluted process of diagnosis and recovery have given ‘Euphoria’ the pedestal it deserves for such accurate representation. Especially for a drama piece so focused on the “typical high school experience” the raw truth and agony that the characters face is something that was not expected but greatly appreciated. 

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One such example is how ‘Euphoria’ shows that having a mental illness or SUD does not automatically villanize you, nor does it make you a malevolent and careless individual. Instead, mental illnesses come in all shapes and sizes, even ones like Rue who is mundane, ordinary, just a girl in high school who has been dealt a bad set of cards. It is so beautifully refreshing to see this and to look on the screen and find someone who is so similar to you, so simple and common, and yet deals with the same struggles as you do. Rue is not a bad person, she is just a kid in high school who faces trauma and due to a lack of opportunity, turned to drugs to cope. 

Mental Health in Euphoria – Decreasing Stigma Around SUD and Mental Illness 

This opportunity to decrease the stigma already mental health has been handed to ‘Euphoria’ and HBO on a silver platter and they delivered. They accurately showed what it means to be a person with mental illness and SUD, what it means to be human and imperfect and still loved and important. More than that, it showed that for those who struggle with said ailments, they are not weak or lesser than anyone else – in fact, they are braver, stronger in their attempts to recover and grow into a better version of themselves. The lesson is an important one, especially for young impressionable children who may watch and find their self-loathing and fragility fading into something else, metamorphosing into an acceptance of oneself and a valiant effort to make a change. 

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If treatment and recovery are to be accomplished, whether, in the TV show or everyday life, portrayals like this are becoming increasingly important and valuable. ‘Euphoria’ may have its ups and downs, some bumps and blips to their characters and the depiction of mental illness, but overall it does an admirable job of telling the truth and showing that the truth doesn’t need to be a punishment, that it can be liberating and freeing as hell. 

By Mireille Karadanaian

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