Netflix’s Heartstopper got a lot of things right when it comes to the teen experience. From the first crushes to the identity crises, and to the utter joy of finding out who you truly are for the first time in your life. But the one thing that I can’t stop thinking about after watching Heartstopper is the mental health issue of it all. Because teen dramas are a dime a dozen. And it’s taken me till now to realize that no teen drama I’ve watched (I know Euphoria is out there but I can’t watch for multiple trigger warnings) has tackled mental health in a manner that feels realistic and similar to what I felt as a teen.
Now, I can go into the ways that other shows have failed my queer self or teens in general. But we’re not here to put others down. We’re here to talk about Heartstopper and open up a dialog about how this show reminded us of something that we have all had to deal with in our formative teenage years: mental health issues that made us feel alone, worthless, and so many other bad emotions. This also comes with a specific focus on how someone who isn’t a teenager anymore is still grateful for how this show handled things and made me feel seen.
WARNING: I talk about suicidal ideation at one point further down this piece.
Personally, I would love to start out with loneliness and its mental health manifestations. Now, this is something that all of the characters of Heartstopper experienced. From Charlie to Nick to Elle and Tao, everyone felt the creeping fingers of loneliness making them doubt themselves and those around them. In those formative years we are so worried about where we fit that we don’t sometimes see the truth that is staring at us right in the face: we are not alone. Plus it’s a time when we are trying to figure out who we are and that’s a whole other mess that exacerbates the feeling of loneliness.
This particular feeling (loneliness) sticks with us long into adulthood if we don’t work through the emotions of it all in our teenage years. Now, there’s nothing wrong with you, dear reader, not having found a resolution for the feeling of loneliness that carried on into adulthood. This is me saying that the future generation will be steps ahead of us in having the support that will enable them to work through some things differently because this show didn’t shy away from the not-so-pretty parts of growing up. And it’s the reason why I wish I had something like this as a teenager.
Next up, when it comes to talking about mental health and how Heartstopper tackled it, is the thought of not existing. As someone who has experienced suicidal ideation, I think there’s a difference between this and wanting to just not exist. Not wanting to exist is this feeling of taking up space that isn’t for us. You could see that in Charlie because of the way that he had been treated by others who had made him feel like less. He subsequently turned it inward and blamed himself in a way that felt raw and honest. And in many ways, it felt familiar.
It’s through the journey of Heartstopper that Charlie found his own self-worth and realized that he didn’t have to contemplate the concept of not existing or taking up space. I’m not saying that he figured everything out perfectly, but he came to a conclusion where he was more balanced and willing to let himself take up the space that is rightfully his. And personally, that blew my mind when it comes to mental health in teen dramas because narratives always just jump into suicidal ideation without a second thought about other mental health issues. I was even more surprised when he didn’t do it by himself, messed up and was allowed to fix things, and he tried even when he didn’t have everything figured out.
In addition, as someone who has experienced suicidal ideation, I understand that not wanting to exist is a precursor to falling into a spiral that could lead to more depressive states on the road to suicide. But I think it’s so important to talk about the beginning stages of such feelings and how it’s something that we all personally feel sometimes because we aren’t sure where we stand or if we should just be taking up the space at all. And again, if I had this show growing up, and I saw that Charlie was feeling what I felt, it would have made for a less lonely set of teenage years.
The same thing goes for the last thing that I want to talk about when it comes to Heartstopper and how it handles mental health issues. There’s the isolation of it all. Too often shows don’t spend enough time exploring the correlation between mental health issues and isolation. A lot of times we don’t want others to have to experience the fire that is burning in our minds or the doubts we feel about ourselves. So we isolate ourselves to protect those that we love but also to protect ourselves from being hurt any further.
Heartstopper explores that with Charlie and lets him feel it. They let him work through it, have those in his life comfort him and give him some sort of perspective, and then allow him come to his own conclusions. You could kind of see it in Nick as well when he was dealing with everything with his friends. He was going through this massive shift and he started isolating himself a little bit. Its fate, or maybe just two souls recognizing that they needed each other, that they could be supportive of each other in their greatest time of need.
Ultimately, the sense of unity that Heartstopper made me feel is the reason why I’m writing this post and still thinking about how they approached mental health issues. Because nobody does this alone. And it’s without shows like this that we think that we are the only ones going through these motions. We’re not. Many of us are going through the same thing and this show has given me the tools to speak my truth and be free even though I’m not a teenager anymore.
And that’s why this show transcends past just being a teen drama. And that’s why I think that it will touch more people’s hearts than expected and leave them feeling like someone, particularly those in the LGBTQ community, is holding their hand while not judging them for the emotions they have also felt at one time or another in their life. And this is just with one season. Imagine if Heartstopper gets another season and we can explore the rest of this friendship group and what Charlie and Nick are going to go through next while being at each other’s side?
I think it would be glorious. And I can’t wait to find out what comes next and what bits of myself I will be able to heal and others will be able to get help from the very beginning when they feel these emotions or face these obstacles.
Heartstopper is now available on Netflix.