Film shines a light on anxiety

SAXTONS RIVER — On Friday, Oct. 18, at 7:30 p.m., Vermont Academy will hold a special screening of the documentary, Angst, at the Nita Choukas Theater in its Horowitz Performing Arts Center to create a dialogue between parents, children, community leaders, and experts on the subject of anxiety.

The event, which is open to the public as well as the VA community, will feature a viewing of the 56-minute film, followed by an informative discussion led by a panel of local health experts.

The first week of October is National Mental Illness Awareness Week, and Oct. 10 was World Mental Health Day.

This screening extends the discussion of these topics further into the month, and it focuses on adolescents when students nationwide are experiencing more issues related to anxiety.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health challenge in the U.S., impacting 54 percent of females and 46 percent of males, with age 7 being the median age of onset, according to the World Health Organization. While anxiety disorders are highly treatable, only one-third of those suffering receive treatment.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine all recently released reports that include “pressure to excel” as a critical environmental factor that is harming adolescent well-being.

External pressures affect students every day, even in activities that used to provide stress relief, like music and sports. As a group, high-achieving students can be at a much greater risk for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and risky behaviors.

Through candid interviews, the film's producers tell the stories of a number of students, who discuss their anxiety and its impacts on their lives and relationships, as well as how these students have found solutions and hope.

The film includes an interview with Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps, who is focusing his energy on mental health advocacy. In addition, the documentary provides discussions with mental health experts about the causes of anxiety and its sociological effects, along with the help, resources, and tools available to address the condition.

While Angst documents the struggles some people have with anxiety, it also reveals their hope for the future. Noah, a teenager in the film, describes it this way: “Anxiety doesn't define me. It's not just a curse; it also gives me strength.”

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