Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
‘Normal People’ is the latest hit drama of lockdown, and after watching it I can understand why. Through a compelling and authentic storyline, the two lead actors, Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, have captured the nation’s hearts with their on-off relationship. Connell’s chain necklace has sent viewers into frenzy (now with its own Instagram account of over 155k followers!) and Marianne’s bangs have led to women across the country reaching for a pair of scissors. Raw, honest and open; it depicts relationships between young people with levels of tenderness and sensitivity rarely seen before. It is quite simply beautiful.
However, Sally Rooney’s triumphant smash-hit adaptation resonates with people on a deeper level, sending out an important underlying message. Themes in the series include loneliness, consent, love and personal growth and critics have singled out the final three episodes as a compassionate and realistic exploration of mental health particularly the mental health of men.
After losing a close childhood friend to suicide, viewers see Paul Mescal’s Connell spiral into depression. Watching it unfold is heart-breaking and agonising; it is a painfully accurate representation of what depression looks like for many people.
With Connell’s ability to speak clouded, he cannot say how he feels. He is moving through life as though stuck in a thick fog, clearly disengaged from those around him. Marianne appears to be his lifeline and the Skype call between the two, whilst she is away studying abroad, is arguably the most touching moment in the series. It shows the power of communication, even if through a screen and is of particular relevance today, whilst we are kept away from loved ones.
After encouragement from a friend, Connell seeks help from a therapist, a brave move that is seemingly impossible to many battling depression and warrants praise in itself. After struggling initially to open up, he finally allows himself to let out his feelings and in an emotional and deeply sad monologue, he cries as his words begin to tumble out. The show depicts Connell’s emotional breakthrough and gradual road to recovery, combined with the aid of medication, in an honest and truthful manner.
It highlights for many who have come through the other side of depression that finally speaking to someone and opening up is the most important step to take.
The 12-episode series is a quarantine gift, ground-breaking and golden. It breaks down the dangerous and damaging societal stereotype of the ‘silent, strong’ man. It is worth noting that men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women, in the UK. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45. It is, of course, impossible to attribute this to just one specific reason. However, it is clear that men struggle with seeking help, attempting to either ignore or solve their own issues alone. Normal People observes male vulnerability and portrays it as a form of bravery and courage; it serves as a breath of fresh air from toxic messages such as “man up” or “grow a pair”.
‘Normal People’ emphasises that mental health, like love, can be complex. It shows the power and strength of human connection, whatever one’s age. It doesn’t sugar-coat, nor does it exaggerate; it provides much-needed reassurance that it is okay not to be okay. It should inspire us all to work towards a society that is more open and supportive of all, and above all it highlights that it is always okay to accept help from others and to talk openly about not feeling ‘normal’.