From angst to empathy

From angst to empathy

According to the World Health Organization, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health challenges in the U.S. and they impact young people, who are often less equipped than adults to handle stress or to help friends who might be suffering from anxiety. While anxiety disorders are highly treatable, only one-third of those who suffer get treatment. Passionate local volunteers, educators and experts want to help educate teens and their families about anxiety. 

In October, a collaboration of people from Woodbury Thrives, the Youth Services Bureau, District 833 and anonymous donors affiliated with Woodbury Senior Living worked to bring the documentary film Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety to Woodbury in several screenings throughout October and November. Woodbury Thrives mental health and wellbeing initiative chairperson Margaret Wacholz says, “Anxiety, we believe, [often] goes undiagnosed in young people and the effects can be debilitating. After watching Angst, I couldn’t believe how powerful [the movie] was.” So Wacholz and others spearheaded a plan to make the film accessible to young people and families in Woodbury. “We need to arm our youngsters and teens with the tools to be resilient,” she says. 

The producers of the film have one goal: to start a global conversation and raise awareness around anxiety. “The movie is told through the eyes of several young people and parents,” Wacholz says. “There is even an appearance in the film by Olympian Michael Phelps because he has suffered from anxiety.” The creators of the film want viewers to know that “while Angst documents the struggles some people have with anxiety, it also reveals their hope for the future.” 

In addition to the screenings, the Youth Services Bureau, a mental health organization that treats kids in Woodbury, Cottage Grove and Stillwater, will host a mental health presentation for parents and caregivers called Internal Overload on November 13. Merri Guggisberg with Youth Services Bureau says, “Anxiety is the top reason we see kids. Times have changed and our kids see and endure a lot.” She says the experts at the Youth Services Bureau want to bring hope in those moments when people don’t know where to turn. They want to come alongside parents and be an asset in the community. At the Internal Overload presentation, parents will learn about the differences between stress and anxiety, how to recognize the signs, and ways to help teens manage stress both in and out of school. 

The positive impact of this movement doesn’t end there. Woodbury High School health and physical education teacher Gary Diamond says, “I often hear students state how much harder high school is due to the pressure to get good grades, the amount of homework, pressure to perform in sports, finding out what they want to do after high school, finding a job/work, social media, conflict with friends and family,” and so on. He adds, “These stressors increase a person's anxiety levels, where most ninth-graders are not equipped with the skill sets nor maturity level to figure how to deal with all of these at once.” To help, WHS will show Angst to all ninth graders. Diamond’s hope is that students can better understand how to demonstrate empathy towards others who might be struggling in class—and that we all might need some help through hard times, and that's okay.