hmsa sponsors award-winning play to raise mental health awareness

Courtney Takabayashi
April 12, 2024

While Dear Evan Hansen follows a teenager struggling with social anxiety and depression, the musical resonates with audiences of all ages. Exploring themes such as loneliness, grief, and the role of social media in modern society, the play also delivers a powerful message: Taking care of your mental health is important for you, your loved ones, and your community. 

The cast of Dear Evan Hansen. Photo courtesy Brandon Miyagi

Making an impact through theater
Sponsoring a show like Dear Evan Hansen means a lot to HMSA President and CEO Mark M. Mugiishi, M.D., F.C.A.S., who’s no stranger to Broadway musicals. “In this post-COVID age of social media, we’re seeing a negative impact on the mental well-being of our youth,” he says. “We need to fix it, or it will be a problem for the next generation.” 

As seen in local and national events, the impact of mental health goes beyond the individual. It’s essential for everyone to take care of themselves and look out for others for the safety of the community. “Sometimes, what happens is unpreventable, but sometimes if there’s an awareness, maybe something can be done,” Dr. Mugiishi says. “If there’s anything we can do to prevent tragedy, let’s be there.”   

Showing up 
The partnership between HMSA and Manoa Valley Theatre (MVT) is a natural one. Studies show that theater creates empathy, inspires hope, and encourages open communication. “At HMSA, we look for creative and innovative ways to engage with different generations of our members,” says Jennifer Diesman, HMSA senior vice president of government policy and advocacy. “Manoa Valley Theatre’s production of Dear Evan Hansen is a really good way to do that.”

Rob Duval, artistic director of MVT and a high school teacher for 25 years, hopes the show can make an impact on anyone suffering or struggling with their mental health. “This play is relevant because it speaks to those issues and how to reach out,” he says. “We’re so happy to be sponsored by HMSA because we feel like they do such good work in our communities.”

As a mother, doctor, and HMSA medical director, Stefanie Park, M.D., understands how crucial it is to participate in events that shed a light on youth mental health. “We need to stamp out the stigma by talking openly about these issues,” she says. “And it’s tough to be a kid these days, so let’s do our best to show up for them and be present.” 

Dear Evan Hansen audience member and Iolani senior Taniela “Nela” Taliauli credits his role models for helping him get through the challenges he’s faced. “Growing up on the Big Island, I didn’t have a lot,” he says. “But I’ve been blessed with mentors and other adults who showed up for me and that’s made a positive impact on my life.”

Though he’s still a teenager, Taliauli shows maturity when it comes to sensitive topics. “My friends and I don’t mess around when it comes to our mental health,” he says. “When I’m not feeling my best, I call my mom or try to focus on gratitude. I know I have a lot to be thankful for.”  

Tackling the big problems together
Emily Oshima Lee, senior vice president of corporate strategy at HMSA, shares a sentiment similar to Dr. Park. “The world our kids are growing up in is even harder than the world we grew up in,” she says. “It’s going to take our partners, community organizations, all of us to work together to tackle the big problems that our kids are facing.”   

Social media reshaped the world for kids and adults. Photo courtesy Brandon Miyagi

One of HMSA’s partners is Hawaii Pacific Health. For Terence Young, chief operating officer of Hawaii Pacific Health Medical Group, artistic creations like Dear Evan Hansen are extremely valuable. “We’re helping to support local businesses and talk about behavioral health, which shows our members and patients that we’re behind them,” he says. “And as a father of young children, I want to make sure they grow up healthy and engaged in their mental and physical health.” 

Relating to the show
Darian Aquino feels honored to play the lead role of Evan Hansen. “Since the show opened on Broadway, I’ve dreamed of playing the part,” he says. “I relate to the character and used my experiences to portray Evan.” Aquino hopes that the show imparts the message that everyone deserves the right to feel seen and heard. “No one should suffer in silence.” 

Jenelle Wong, who portrays overachiever Alana Beck in the play, also finds her character relatable. “Alana is very driven and tries to be the best at everything,” Wong says. “But she’s also lonely and awkward and yearns for a real connection. I think we’ve all felt the pressure of high expectations.” While getting into character, Wong realized an important lesson. “You never know what someone is going through,” she says. “They may seem fine on the outside, but on the inside, they’re struggling.”

Seek help
If you or someone you know is dealing with mental health issues, the first step is vital. “Seek help from loved ones, seek help from HMSA’s Online Care®,” Dr. Mugiishi says. “Please reach out.” 

Here are programs and resources HMSA offers:

  • HMSA’s Online Care for Behavioral Health. If you need emotional support or want to discuss stress and anxiety management, you can talk to an Online Care provider 24/7, 365 days a year without leaving home.
  • HMSA’s Behavioral Health Program. Get help with conditions like depression, anxiety, alcohol and substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders and more. 
  • Mental health resources. If you’re not sure where to start, browse through these articles that detail various topics related to mental health. 

Spearheading the cause
Check out this video of an evening at Dear Evan Hansen where attendees including HMSA leadership, partners, and the actors discuss what the play means to them. 

Hero photo courtesy Brandon Miyagi

Share this article

By commenting, you agree to Island Scene's Terms of Use.