Safe Community Coalition Shines a Light on Youth Anxiety
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Safe Community Coalition Shines a Light on Youth Anxiety

More than 250 people turned out at McLean High School Dec. 6 to see the film “Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety” sponsored by the Safe Community Coalition of McLean. Peggy Fox of WUSA 9 moderated a panel discussion following the film.

More than 250 people turned out at McLean High School Dec. 6 to see the film “Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety” sponsored by the Safe Community Coalition of McLean. Peggy Fox of WUSA 9 moderated a panel discussion following the film. Photo by Ashley Misitzis

As part of a yearlong focus on anxiety, the Safe Community Coalition (SCC), in conjunction with the McLean High School PTSA, hosted the IndieFlix Original documentary “Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety” on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, at McLean High School.

“This year, the Safe Community Coalition decided to focus on anxiety,” said Dr. Melissa Sporn, McLean based clinical psychologist and SCC board member. “Anxiety is a normal part of childhood, and every child goes through phases. A phase is temporary and usually harmless, but children who suffer from an anxiety disorder experience fear, nervousness, and shyness, and they start to avoid places and activities. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, developing other related mental health disorders such as depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse at a higher rate than their non-anxious peers.”

In the film, young people affected by anxiety openly discuss their struggles, and mental health professionals discuss coping strategies. In addition, Olympic athlete and mental health advocate Michael Phelps offers a candid glimpse into his personal experiences with crippling anxiety and depression. The bottom line – no matter who you are, it’s okay to not be okay.

Following the movie, WUSA 9 Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Peggy Fox moderated a panel discussion and question and answer session with mental health professionals from the McLean community including psychiatrist Dr. Adrian Brown, Licensed Clinical Social Worker Jennifer Weaver, FCPS school psychologists Beth Werfel from McLean High School and Kayla McCallister from Kent Gardens Elementary School and Marley Jerome-Featherstone, LCSW from McLean High School.

One key takeaway from the evening, elaborated on by panelist Jennifer Weaver was the profound effect of a seemingly simple technique: Name it to tame it. “For a child experiencing intense negative emotions, simply labeling what they’re feeling helps put distance between themselves and those feelings,” she said. “We call that ‘name it to tame it’ and it’s a simple yet effective tool used in mindfulness training.”

Other key takeaways from the movie and panel discussion:

  • Anxiety disorders are highly prevalent, affecting more than 30 percent of adolescents or one in eight children. About 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60 percent of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment, according to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report.

  • Anxiety disorders are highly treatable. “The stunning aspect of this is that anxiety is a very treatable disorder,” said Melissa Sporn. “It is easily mitigated through cognitive behavioral techniques, mindfulness and, if necessary, medication.”

  • Neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to rewire to adapt to new circumstances, isn’t science fiction. You can change the way you think about something, creating new connections between neurons, and in effect, rewire your brain to positivity.

  • Distraction – snapping fingers, texting a friend, focusing on your breath, putting ice cubes in your hands, etc. – allows the “fight or flight” part of the brain responsible for the anxiety to take a break.

  • Parental modeling is powerful tool to destigmatize anxiety. Sharing experiences of anxiety/shame/fear with your children and letting them know how you manage your own anxiety lets them know that adults are human too.

  • Exercise and adequate sleep, at least 8-9 hours for teenagers, are vital for teenagers to stay healthy and manage their anxiety.

“We at the SCC have been working towards reducing the stress our students experience for years,” said Dr. Sporn. “We do that through providing programs during highly stressful times, such as the transitions between elementary and middle school, middle school and high school, and finally the transition to college from high school. This year, we wanted to directly address the worries and unease many students are experiencing. We hope the community embraces the opportunity to open a dialogue on the topic of anxiety.”

To find out more about the SCC, visit mcleanscc.org. You can also visit angstmovie.com for a list of resources. And follow us on Twitter and Facebook with @mcleanscc.