Despite all of the cast members' warnings, nothing could have prepared viewers for the emotional journey that is season four of Stranger Things.
The Netflix show takes a surprising turn in Volume I, tackling subject matter like depression and therapy through its monsters. For those who have struggled with their mental health, the allegory is a strikingly accurate representation of what it's like to deal with an illness like depression.
The first character killed by the terrifying monster Vecna is Chrissy, a cheerleader who seemingly has it all going for her. Her boyfriend is the captain of the basketball team and she's one of the most popular girls in the school. But her peers don't know that she's secretly struggling to sleep at night and is plagued by anxiety. Then, she's just gone, having been taken by Vecna.
After another student falls victim to Vecna, Max, played by Sadie Sink, steals her guidance counselor's records. As she's reading over the counselor's notes on each student, Max realizes that she and the others were suffering the same symptoms: nosebleeds, headaches, nightmares and past trauma.
While visiting her stepbrother Billy's grave, Max goes into a trance in which Billy tells her that there's relief in letting go: "Follow me into death. That is why I'm here, Max. To end your suffering once and for all."
She struggles to fight back against the lifelike figure, unable to distinguish the truth from Vecna's made-up world—an all too familiar reality for people who struggle with their mental health. I should know because I'm one of them.
While I've never suffered nosebleeds or nightmares, I have had depression and anxiety since I was in middle school, so I can relate to Max's fight with Vecna. Ironically enough, I called depression my monster or alter ego, because I can't always tell which thoughts and feelings are in fact my own. During a depressive episode, I'll start thinking to myself, 'No one cares about what you're feeling, they've got problems of their own,' which isn't true. But, in the moment, it's incredibly difficult to reason with yourself, especially as an insecure and hormone-filled teenager.
Like Max, I had friends who wanted me in their lives and made an effort to be there, but that other part of me, the depressed part, told me that they couldn't understand how I was feeling. So I'd isolate myself, turning to books, movies and, most importantly, music for comfort.
The Duffer brothers highlight the importance of music in the series by featuring Kate Bush's song "Running Up the Hill" (which is now No.1 on Apple Music). Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Steve (Joe Keery) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) play the song for Max while she's under Vecna's spell, helping shift her focus from the nightmarish Upside Down to the people in front of her. And it's in this moment that Max is reminded she is loved and supported.
I cried as I watched this scene, because depression really does feel like a fight against an all-powerful being. It's a lot to grapple with when you're a teen.
As heartbreaking as Max's struggle is, it's important that mental health is discussed openly. As Winona Ryder told E! News, "A lot of people write that off as like, 'Oh, kids are kids,' but it's actually like they're going through a lot of pain and confusion. It's like a war for them."
But it's never a losing fight.
Season four of Stranger Things is streaming now on Netflix.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).