On September 19th, a community showing at Oswego High School featured the new documentary Angst, an IndieFlix original film about teen anxiety. The purpose of the documentary is to take a deeper dive into what anxiety is, the impact it has on adolescents, and when, how, and why it happens.
Karin Gornick, the co-producer of the film, explained the basis of what Angst is about.
“Angst first sheds light onto what signs and symptoms look like when we are experiencing anxiety and the science behind why we experience anxiety when our amygdala is triggered. Understanding what it is that we all as humans experience helps normalize the conversation. Witnessing other teens speaking up about their own experiences and the help they received models how important it is to talk about our mental health challenges to get support,” Gornick said.
The showing was followed up with a live Q&A panel comprised of Brianne Kalusniak and Abby Campbell, social workers from East. They were joined by Courtney Decarlo, the co-owner of Oswego Wellness, a mental health support and treatment facility, the partner of which brought the event to the area.
Along with all of the teens featured in the film, a senior from Oswego High School, Ally and her mother Terry were on the panel. As an opening to the Q&A portion of the event, Terry shared her experience when Ally began to struggle with her anxiety.
“Something did not seem right,” Terry said. “I noticed my daughter had a loss of appetite, a loss of social activity, and a loss of sleep.”
Terry explained how she failed to see it as a problem at first, but when Ally’s condition persisted, she took the initiative to seek help, as she said it hurt and confused her to see her continue to struggle for so long.
The film portrayed many others in the same situation. There were interviews with much younger kids, having just been diagnosed with their anxiety, while teenagers and adults explaining how they struggled with it for so long, unbeknownst to the help they could receive until much after it began.
Along with how Ally mentioned her OCD being a factor stemming from her anxiety, the people in the film explained how their problems manifested through their worries. from a simple stomach ache to an eating disorder, anxiety can make a lot of different people do a lot of different things for a lot of different reasons.
A recovery method known as exposure therapy was also experimented with by many of the participants of the film.
Exposure therapy is a type of healing done by purposefully putting people in situations where they experience anxiety so that they learn to better manage and cope with their anxiety. This was a large piece of the film, having shown a real exposure therapy session, and Gornick mentioned how the mere participation with the project modeled the same impact that exposure therapy can have.
“Speaking up wasn’t easy, but the support and rewards and personal growth for each and every one of them has been powerful… It’s been amazing to watch the ripple effect of healing that these teens have started,” Gornick said.
For those who might not know just how they should approach their issues yet, their questions were heard and mirrored the similar experiences Terry explained having had before.
Some asked about the desire to seek treatment or start addressing anxiety in much younger children.
“With little kids, you should speak using their words, so when you say anxiety — that’s kind of a big word… so you should say ‘what are you afraid of?’, ‘What makes you worry?’, ‘What do you think about a lot?’,” Decarlo said.
Campbell offered other suggestions to address anxiety in young people over the course of the discussion.
“[Ask]‘What are some worries that I can control?’, ‘what are some worries that I can’t control?’, and being able to empower the student or child to differentiate between them,” Campbell added.
On the converse, questions were asked regarding what to do with older, near adults, that refuse treatment.
“When you have someone that would be treatment resistant, you need to… meet them where they’re at,” Kulsniak said. “[Then you should be] having a conversation like ‘what right now, in life, are you happy about?’, ‘what do you want to do with your life?’, and then ‘what do you want in your life down the road?’ and ‘what is a roadblock to it right now?’”
Gornick, the aforementioned co-producer of the film, expressed her close connections to the topic and driving force for creating it.
“I have a teenage son who struggled with an anxiety disorder and became suicidal at 15. Every single member of the film crew on Angst has a personal tie to someone who has suffered the effects of anxiety that has tipped over into the unhealthy zone,” Gornick said.
The overarching message of the event circulated around the breakdown of how psychologically simple and normal it is to feel anxious. Gornick explained that the only thing currently keeping so many from understanding and receiving the treatment is stigma.
“Stigma comes from fear and misinformation,” Gornick added. “So the more we can normalize the conversation and talk about our mental health challenges, the more stigma will be squashed and connection and help will grow.”
The official website from the Angst movie comes with a resource page containing answers for common questions, helpful multimedia to visit, and even therapist-finding tools and crisis hotlines. These are encouraged to explore if someone might be in need of help, or just wondering what they could do to better manage the anxiety they, or someone else, experience in daily life.
Additionally, for more specific, local care, the Oswego Wellness has a webpage offering their many services and resources for a wide variety of issues, not just anxiety.