In the weeks since the premiere of Season 2 of Euphoria, social media and TV critics alike have slammed the show for its provocative storylines, with some even saying it should be set in college because it’s so inappropriate for high school kids. The plotlines center on trauma, drug use, explicit sex, and other mature themes that have sparked both intrigue and outrage among viewers. But Euphoria’s not the first show to do so: most notably, teen TV in the late 2000s and early 2010s was dominated by Skins UK, which was known for portraying drug use, eating disorders, and other similarly dark themes, and which exposed an entire generation to potentially traumatic content.
As a self-proclaimed “Zillenial,” my experiences walk the line between both Gen Z and the millennial generation. I was on KIK before Snapchat, Ask.FM before Twitter, and Tumblr before Instagram. While the lasting impact of 2010s Tumblr is an entirely different story, it was my first introduction into the messy-haired, drug-fueled, mentally ill lense of “indie sleaze.” And with it, came my obsession with Skins UK.
Once questioned to be “the most dangerous television show for children ever,” Skins UK was my first exposure to sex, psychedelics, British indie-pop music, what the hell a spliff was, and the concept of self-harm. At 13, I had never consumed so much dark material from a television show, and it made me dive into material that I was entirely too young for. While Skins UK made me feel seen by portraying mental illness so frankly, its explicit content also made my and other young viewers’ thoughts much, much darker.
Though it will always be one of my favorite shows, I still rewatch and think, 13-year-old me should have never watched this. And with the emergence of Euphoria, another show centered around teenage drug use and harmful behaviors, I can’t help but wonder if Gen Z — or the Euphoria Generation — will develop the same angsty psyche as the Skins UK Generation.
I spoke to millennial Skins UK fans and Gen Z Euphoria fans to find out whether these shows are a mirror of pre-existing generational angst, or if we were instead shaped by the trauma depicted in these shows, and whether or not Euphoria is just history repeating itself.
The trauma of the Skins Generation
For older Gen Z and millenials, Skins UK was one of the most formative teen television shows. The show followed a group of teenagers in the United Kingdom as they navigated love, partying, mental illness, and most notably, drugs. Skins UK birthed memorable characters like the lovably anxious Sid, the spontaneous Chris, and the forever iconic Effy Stontem with her thick eyeliner and infatuating love triangle with Cook and Freddie. Although the cast and characters would change every two seasons, the controversial storylines would stay. And with them stayed the fans, and their relationships with the source material, which grew more complicated due to the initial criticism of its depiction of hedonism and later reflections of discomfort by the show’s stars.
For some, Skins represented a voyeuristic escape with its unrealistic levels of darkness that verged on absurdity. “I’m rewatching it now, and really didn’t understand the show like I did at age 14,” says Kate, 21. “Like, when Effy got so f***ed up on Molly, and Tony had to go save her, and they were threatening to give her heroin if he didn’t have sex with her? His little sister? Even now, that’s still so nutty. It’s kind of like we volunteered for mental trauma.”
Other fans, however, viewed Skins as a realistic portrayal of teenage life that was otherwise lacking on mainstream TV. “I’m not sure what got me to start the show but I continued to watch it because, at the time, there were no shows like it that were so realistically dark about teenage life,” Angel tells Her Campus. “I’ve never seen a show that dove so deep into the details of each personal battle as this show did, so I can see why it may have been feared for public viewing on TV.”
For Sandra, 24, that realism was a comfort rather than a shock. “I was around 14 when I started watching Skins,” says Sandra. “I saw GIFs of it on Tumblr and Tumblr was and still is my safe place. I had started smoking weed, self-harming, and starving myself. I couldn’t relate to anyone around me that was happy, pretty, had large friend groups, etc. So when I found a show that was more representative of my experience, I held onto it for dear life.”
And while Angel says that Skins UK had no personal impact on her mental health (though she understands how it could harm others), Sandra’s experiences tell a different story.
“There were definitely many triggers for me, and it’s a show I’ve thought about often in the last decade,” Sandra says. “I think it both helped and harmed my mental health. I was silently dealing with my mental illness with no resources and nobody around me who understood the severity of the issues. It felt like comfort that characters had each other despite how messed up they were. It was like a chance I didn’t get.”
Is Euphoria repeating Skins’ history?
There has been a lot of discourse over similarities between Skins UK and the popular HBO show, Euphoria. Much like Skins UK, Euphoria has been noted for its portrayal of the dark underbelly of adolescence, mental health, addiction, and growing up as a teenager in America. And though Euphoria has drawn criticism for its handling of some storylines (including McKay’s), there’s no denying the show is defining a generation, much like Skins UK. However, Euphoria’s display of graphic content — and how it’s handled — has evolved from Skins UK and other shows in the 2010s. While there has been an ongoing debate on whether Euphoria is an accurate depiction of teenage life due to its extremely mature situations (like violence and hard drug use) and the show’s use of excessive nudity, Gen Z has still been able to find themselves in the characters of the show.
Kareena, 19, is a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh. She watched Euphoria after being coaxed into it by her roommates, who are big fans of the show.
“I wouldn’t have identified with the characters while I was in high school, which is the age I think they’re supposed to be, but I do in college,” Kareena says. “I identify with Rue — not in the sense that I’m an addict, but in the sense that I feel as though I’m not always able to be a good sister or daughter due to my own internal struggles and illnesses.”
“Euphoria can be … triggering for people who are more self-conscious because there is such an overload and glorification of substances, abusive relationships, abuse of power, and self-harm,” says Kylie, 20 and a junior at Chapman University. “I know the intent of the show is to shed light on these issues, but I can see younger viewers being influenced by those graphic scenes. But the second season has done a better job making those triggering scenes less glamorous, and showing the real hardships of some of those social issues.”
The drug use and violence throughout the show, while taking up a fair amount of screen time, is also met with consequences (though not always to the same degree, or through the legal system). For instance, the Season 2 premiere provided fans with some much-needed catharsis in the form of watching infamous abuser Nate Jacobs getting his face punched in.
Season 2 of Euphoria is also perhaps learning from the reactions to Season 1, by painting Rue’s addiction as a more isolating experience than before. While Season 1 featured Rue popping pills in a party setting with fun colored lights and glitter, this season mainly sees Rue taking hard drugs alone or with one other person. Perhaps the most chilling moment came from episode four where, after Rue’s drug-induced hallucination of dancing with her father, we see her swaying alone in her room, lonely and high.
The look of Euphoria is also different from the first season — after stirring up criticism for glorifying harmful behavior due to its fun and vivid color palette (and excessive glitter), Season 2’s aesthetic is much darker. The neon lighting is gone, the glitter eyeshadow has been replaced by thick black eyeliner, and the show has a much heavier, moodier feel overall. In a way, it’s almost reminiscent of the “indie sleaze” look of Skins UK, but fresher for 2022, and perhaps more self-aware.
“Our generation, we love aesthetic for aesthetic’s sake, so much so that we [use it to] cover up how sad and withdrawn we are,” Kareena says. “That’s most likely a result of social media and the strange, detached culture it has created, but we see ourselves in the dark beauty of Euphoria.”
Even former Skins UK kids Angel and Sandra agree that Euphoria draws similarities to the beloved show, but has a more refreshing take.
“I think the biggest difference is that Euphoria is taking that extra step to truly show the consequences of the character’s actions,” Sandra says. “At the end of the day, we need to remember that these characters are teenagers. And yes, it’s triggering, but it’s a reality that some of the most unfortunate teenagers face today.”
The psychological impact of Skins and Euphoria on teen mental health
It’s not out of the ordinary for mature shows like Skins UK and Euphoria to influence teenagers in their formative years. Pareen Sehat, MC, RCC, is a psychologist concentrating on depression, anxiety, and trauma counseling. She spoke to Her Campus about the possible mental impact of shows like Skins UK and Euphoria on teenage viewers.
“A distorted and toxic image of reality can have a harmful effect on the development of young people. The shows are filled with teenagers experimenting with narcotics and whatnot, but each character is facing some mental health challenges,” Sehat tells Her Campus. “Many teens feel they are fighting their battles alone. But when they see characters on TV facing the same issues, it allows them to feel like they’re not. So, it can be helpful, but if the person watching doesn’t have a supportive environment, the graphic content can be extremely harmful to their mental health. Regardless, graphic content should always be watched in moderation.”
And perhaps Sehat is right that exposing ourselves to uncomfortable material may actually help us. In a 2021 UCLA study of 157 children ages 13 to 17, 62 of the 68 participants who watched the popular show 13 Reasons Why — which centers around the suicide of a high school girl — sought additional information and resources regarding mental illness and self-harm.
Today’s audiences seem to be more aware of the fine line between necessary exposure and potential harm, however. While more recent shows are up-front about the trauma they contain — Euphoria offers a trigger warning at the start of every episode and resources for support at the end, with star Zendaya posting a reminder on social media at the beginning of the season to approach the show with caution. 13 Reasons Why also provided trigger warnings after receiving backlash. Skins UK, on the other hand, offered no disclaimers, no resources, and no warnings for the traumatic content ahead. Although it’s impossible to be certain that trigger warnings or access to mental health resources could have noticeably helped the Skins generation, not doing so at all eliminated the “supportive environment” for many viewers that Sehat warned was necessary.
How to watch Euphoria while protecting your mental health
It’s hard to say whether Euphoria is helping or harming Gen Z — there’s valid arguments for both sides. However, there’s no denying the impact that Skins UK had on elder Gen Z’ers and millennials, and Euphoria looks poised to follow in its footsteps as the defining “trauma show” of a new generation.
In the words of Kareena, “Euphoria encompasses what our generation is about,” for better or worse.
Skins UK fans have taken the time since it went off the air to reflect on the show and the mental impact it had on them. Years after her initial struggles, Sandra was able to overcome the trauma she experienced in both her personal life and as a result of the show’s triggering content.
“As I’ve grown older, I think about the traumatic aspects of the show less and less,” Sandra says. “I almost lost my battle to depression, but now I want to show people the negatives and realities on the journey toward healing, acceptance, and mental health awareness along with allowing room for positivity.”
As a 13-year-old, I found comfort in the darkness of Skins UK, though many of the traumatic storylines have stuck with me through the years. Now, as an avid Euphoria fan, I’m more prepared to handle the traumatic material of the show. While some scenes can be extremely triggering, there are ways in which young viewers can watch these shows safely and mindfully.
“If it’s not supporting your mental health in any way, skip it or take a break for a bit before clicking ‘next episode,’” Linette Bixby, a mindfulness and self-compassion teacher, tells Her Campus. “While sometimes these shows can inspire us to take action and be more compassionate toward others, they can be triggering or too much to handle. And that’s okay. Before watching, ask yourself, ‘What do I need right now?’ or ‘What can I handle right now?’ Let your inner wisdom arise from that.”
With the ever-present, pop culture phenomena revolving around both Skins UK and Euphoria, these “trauma shows” can be hard to avoid. And while both shows feature material that’s triggering or intense, they provide an important perspective on growing up that fans will take with them long after the show ends. Now that Euphoria is shaping up to be the defining show of Gen Z, it’s time to be more mindful and cautious when it comes to consuming and promoting intense content. Whether you choose to watch, or decide to skip for the sake of your mental health, always remember to put yourself — and your mind — first.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.