- Netflix’s “The Midnight Club” explores teen mental health against the backdrop of terminal illnesses.
- The series explores, at length, the physiological and mental repercussions of treatment and remission in chronically ill adolescents.
While most adolescent mental illnesses revolve around depression, anxiety, trauma, and childhood neglect, mental health issues related to grief and mortality are rarely explored.
American filmmaker Mike Flanagan’s drama series “The Midnight Club” takes the road less traveled and explores the mental health of chronically ill teenagers who are coming to terms with the traumatic repercussions of their illnesses, both physiological and mental.
Mike Flanagan On Decay And Dreams Of The “Deathbed Teen”
The main characters in “The Midnight Club” include a group of hospice patients who meet up each midnight to tell sinister stories.
The members are teenagers with terminal illnesses who take to each other’s support and storytelling to navigate their treatments, their mortality, the philosophy of death, their sexuality, and the experiences of their families.
The chief protagonist Ilonka, for example, is representative of the desperate hope and frustration that revisit promising young adults when they see their lives getting cut short in their prime. Her peer Natsuki struggles with grief and depression as she witnesses the death of her roommate Tristan.
Through the segments of the midnight storytelling soirée, the work takes a long, hard look at adolescent psychology and mental health issues. For instance, club members Anya, Kevin, and Spencer narrate stories that explore adolescent mental and physical health issues.
Anya’s story of a drug-addicted ballerina explores the long-term consequences of adolescent substance addiction. Kevin’s story of a teenage serial killer and his psychopathy metaphorically hints at the heritability of mental health disorders. Spence’s story revolves around gender dysphoria, self-love, and his experience of living with AIDS.
Chronically Ill Teenagers, Teen Mental Health, And End-of-life Care
The series was dropped on Mental Health Day in 2022, and rightfully so! Flanagan’s depiction of mental illness transgresses the stereotypical pop cultural depictions of teen mental health and delves into more stigmatized issues of mental wellness.
The series appears vocal about the rights that bestow terminally ill children and teenagers the power to make decisions surrounding their end-of-life care. In this context, the much-neglected issues of teenage suicide, euthanasia, and maladaptive coping are also nuancedly explored.
It also provides insights into pediatric and teenage patients’ understanding of mortality, including the development of concepts of death, fears about their own death, legal interpretations of what patients understand, and how terminally ill young people continue to treasure life.
The series also explores the mental health of parents with chronically ill teenagers—particularly parental grief and support as well as parental withdrawal and isolation. But most importantly, it lauds the power of psychotherapy, storytelling, and community support in battling life-threatening illnesses.
It showcases the beauty of empathy and love, self-acknowledgment, gratitude, and acceptance. Indeed, the series reserves nothing but love and thrill for “those before and those after. To us now and to those beyond. Seen or unseen. Here but not here.”