Documentary provides insight into teenage ‘Angst’

By Nick Udell and Lara Sonuga

More than one in four Americans between the ages of 13 and 18 have an anxiety disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The pervasiveness of this issue has been cause for discussion among educators and media outlets like the Chicago Tribune, which recently published a series of articles titled “Anxiety High” examining the impact of the immense pressure put on high school students.

On Dec. 7, Lane shined a light on the prevalence of anxiety by hosting a screening of “Angst”, a documentary featuring interviews with students and their parents, as well as mental health professionals.

Nearly 70 students, parents, and staff attended the screening, which was held in the auditorium. Following the documentary was a short presentation and Q&A with Rachel Whybrow, a licensed social worker from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

“It helps you understand life though the viewpoint of someone with anxiety,” Jolie Mahr, Div. 161, said. “I watched it because I myself have it and wanted to better understand it.”

“I think where the film is really unique is all the students sharing their stories and different coping strategies that they use, different supports that they got, whether it was from a friend or a parent or through school,” Whybrow said. “Those real life experiences are really unique.”

The film describes several coping mechanisms used for dealing with anxiety, including breathing, meditation, reaching out to a trusted adult, and taking time to walk away from a situation.

“You are also able to see all the different tips that they shared and different strategies that they use,” Whybrow said.

In addition to being a social worker, Whybrow is the director of education at NAMI Chicago, an organization that aims to support people impacted by mental health conditions, reduce stigma and advocate for an effective mental health system.

“Little by little, stigma surrounding anxiety disorders as well as other mental health conditions is being reduced, so through that we can do a lot more identification and are then able to engage people in treatment,” Whybrow said.

By starting a conversation amongst its audience, “Angst” aimed to reduce some of the stigma surrounding anxiety disorders.

“It might seem like not a lot of people have to deal with this kind of thing, but you don’t really realize how many people do struggle with anxiety or depression or different mental disorders,” Maggie Haite, Div. 952, said. “It’s a lot more taboo to talk about. It’s not simple; you can’t just wait an amount of time, and then it gets better. It’s a thing that you constantly have to keep working on.”

In addition to helping students, “Angst” was aimed towards parents of teens. Richard Mazzuca, the father of a Lane freshman, found the film to be a valuable tool in understanding his child’s stress and anxiety.  

“I recognized that anxiety could exist, but it can be managed by understanding it and taking positive action,” Mazzuca said. “I am going to be more mindful of my behavior, realizing that my student will look at me and what I am doing, not what I am saying.”

One of the points reflected on in “Angst” is the effect of modern technology and high expectations on today’s teens. Following the screening, Whybrow said that while the pressure on students today is at an all time high, our awareness of mental health has alo increased.

Some of the parents in attendance took advantage of the question and answer portion of the evening to discuss what the school was doing to address the anxiety felt by students, especially in the face of Lane’s status as a selective enrollment school with a rigorous course load.

Assistant Principal Sarah Hanly explained that the showing of “Angst” was intended to complement Lane’s introduction of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) into the curriculum. This process will include representatives from NAMI visiting freshman health classes to help them better understand and deal with mental health issues and workshops for teachers and administrators.

Due to positive response to the initial showing, “Angst” was shown a second time for students during lunch periods on Dec. 8.