Stranger Things Season 4 is an Allegory For Mental Health
By Veronica Letourneau
June 13th, 2022
Photo: Netflix- Source
The first part of the 4th season of the Netflix phenomena “Stranger Things” has just been released, and this season has dived deeper into the psyche of the characters. The latest antagonist is a monster, known as, Vecna, who attacks teens with depression through the guilt that comes from their traumas.
In the show, there is more than one teen that falls victim to Vecna, but the exploration of depression is mostly done through the character, Max. Her first appearance in the 4th season is her getting off the bus and listening to music. She is then interrupted by the school’s guidance counselor. Max has apparently missed a session with her counselor and claims that she forgot about it, but it is very evident through Sadie Sink’s acting that she did not. Through this short moment, the show lays out the foundation for not only Max’s character, but for those Vecna will target. Max in this scene is showing symptoms of depression - she is uninterested in those around her, she intentionally plays music to further keep herself isolated, and does not want her guidance counselor's help. These behaviors continue on further in the episode and give Vecna the means to manipulate his victims.
However, his shift in Max’s behaviors does not go unnoticed by her friends who try to reach out to her. When Lucas (who became Max’s ex off-screen) invites her to his basketball game, Max refuses to go. Max snaps and asks “...you really care about this?” to which Lucas replies, “Yeah, I…I do. Maybe you should find something you care about too,” alluding to Max losing interest in things she used to like, which is another symptom of depression. “It’s like you’re not even here anymore,” Lucas adds, even going on to say it’s as if she is a ghost. Lucas then tries to be honest and supportive by saying, “I know something is wrong.” To which Max brushes it off and says, “People just change.”
Max is further dragged into her depression, when Vecna purposely begins plaguing Max with visions of a decomposing Billy that are meant to guilt her and draw her further into depression. Because this experience mirrors that of Vecna’s other victims, Max and her friends conclude that she is now one of his targets. People with depression will guilt themselves by replaying their traumas over and over without self restraint.
Thinking that she is now going to die, Max writes letters to everyone - one of the people she writes to is Billy (a source of Max’s guilt whose death triggered her depression). People with depression often try to write out their feelings as it can be easier to express especially when you think you are going to die soon. The letters were also a good way for the audience to see how guilt can affect a person as Max later reads out her letter and wishes she was never born so that Billy could still be alive. Regardless of how Billy treated Max, these thoughts plague her mind saying she is at fault for everything, even if she isn’t, which is another potential symptom of depression.
Before Max expresses her despair for his death through her letter to Billy, Lucas comes to give Max support. Some of his words of support are, “I don’t need a letter, just talk to me, talk to your friends,” and “I’m right here.” Which becomes significant later, as when she is taken by Vecna the group scrambles to get the cassette of her favorite song, this song opens up a portal and helps her escape Vecna. The music helps her see past these toxic visions from Vecna on her guilt for Billy’s death and brings her out of it, as music can do when having negative thoughts and triggers. Although, it was not only the music that get’s her out of Vecna’s curse, but the knowledge of her support system from her friends, which Lucas reminded her of before her lowest moment with Vecan. Kate Bush then becomes Lucas’ favorite artist because her song saved Max’s life. It’s very telling that it is music that gets her out of the curse as many studies have seen that listening to or creating music helps alleviate some depression symptoms.
Vecna’s pattern of taking advantage of victims of trauma and depression doesn't stop at Max. Max’s first argument with Lucas in the first episode is then immediately followed by Chrissy, the first victim, seeing her first nightmare vision from Vecna. The visions have distressed her so much that she turns to drugs to help with it, even pushing for it more than the drug dealer, Eddie. Teens when they have depression can sometimes turn to drugs and alcohol to help with the severe symptoms, viewing it as a means of escape.
Chrissy is seen puking in the toilet before this first vision. Later on in her other vision, we hear her mother’s voice saying, “You ready to try on the dress again? I loosened it up for you.” Once we see Vecna’s feet, the words get more vicious saying, “Open the goddamn door, Chrissy or I’m gonna gut you like the fat pig that you are.” What we can tell from just those moments is that Chrissy’s depression has the insecurity and low self esteem symptoms, ones that may have come from trauma’s from her mother. Loosening a dress and being called “a fat pig” are clues to her insecurity to her body that came from her mother, which could have led her potentially being bulimic. While the show doesn’t overtly tell us this, there are several hints to it that you need to know the signs to tell. Vecna acts as the mind bringing about moments of trauma, even taking on the voice of Chrissy’s mom.
The next victim of Vecna is Nancy’s friend Fred, who through his traumatic visions from Vecna, we see that he was in a car accident which caused the death of others and guilt for Fred who still has a physical scar. The victim after Fred is Patrick, one of the members of the basketball team, we unfortunately do not see his trauma visions but hints of his dad physically harming him.
The finale has us back to season one with Nancy getting a vision of Barbera dead in the upside down. Demonstrating that even though she helped Barbera’s parents get closure, Nancy still is not over her death.
Vecna is a great villain this season because he is a step in for those negative thoughts, those traumatic events that cycle through your head, and for the pain that seemingly can’t go away. This monster is more intriguing because he is no longer some unknown entity that will eat you or violently kill you, but will bring forth mistakes from your past to mentally harm you before killing you. Both the physical and mental pain make Vecna a more personal monster, and one I would not want to encounter.