Anxious Nation: A Feature Documentary Exploring Anxiety, Kids and Families

It started in 2019 with a single post on Facebook: “Kids and anxiety, who is dealing with it?”

As the parent of a child who suffers from anxiety, I knew that if I was struggling, then many other families are too.

While I received a few public posts from friends willing to be open and honest about their struggles on that very public forum, the private messages overwhelmed me. It was as if I gave everyone permission to talk about the 10,000-pound elephant in the room. Suddenly, people I thought I knew well began to share their heartbreaking stories. While each was remarkable and unique, they were also commonplace... too commonplace. So many, like me, were confused about where to turn for help.

When we set out to make this film, we had no idea what was ahead for all of us. A few weeks before COVID-19 shut down our country, we sent out 14 cameras to our cast so they could document their lives and experiences learning to cope during the pandemic—in real-time. This unexpected turn gave us an insight into anxiety through a whole new lens. The question of anxiety and who is dealing with it suddenly felt moot. Because we all were, and most of us still are. The statistics from when we started filming in 2019 to where we are today are downright frightening--and getting worse.

Anxious Nation explores and captures the many faces and facets of anxiety. This feature-length documentary takes a deep look into the crisis of anxiety and mental health in America, especially its impact on kids (ages 10-26) and families. We zero in on how anxiety shows up, the nurture/nature debate, what's happening in homes and society that's significantly adding to the problem, the crisis on college campuses, and the impact of anxiety and mental health in lower socioeconomic communities, especially the brown and black communities. We discuss stigma, loneliness, isolation, disconnection, the alarming rise in suicide, the dangers of social media, overmedication, incorrect diagnoses, and the horrific mental health ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Making of "Anxious Nation"

Our cast and artwork used throughout the film were curated from around the world, as anxiety isn't just a crisis in the United States. It's global.

The reality is we were an extremely anxious nation long before the pandemic and will be for many years to come.

Anxious Nation gently lifts the veil of shame from talking about mental health. The film provides insights into how and where anxiety shows up in our children’s lives, how it impacts families and what parents' contributing role may be in the journey.

We meet kids and families from all over the country with different socioeconomic, cultural, and belief systems who bravely share their stories. We also hear from experts in the trenches, working with families to help them cope. We learn that anxiety affects many of us, including those from whom we don’t expect to see it – like the high school basketball team star, the pre-med college student, and a young man the system failed, over and over.
We also learn how fractured the mental health system is in America and how unprepared our institutions are to care for our kids once they ask for help. With an average wait time of 3-12 weeks on college campuses for an intake appointment, we are setting our kids up for failure. We are also witnessing skyrocketing rates of suicide and attempted suicides in our youth, especially among young girls.

While it may be easy to point the finger of blame at social media and our devices as the root cause of angst in our children, it is far more difficult yet poignant to understand and accept that loneliness, social isolation, stigma, social unrest, political turmoil, and other outside influences all contribute to our crisis state of anxiety.

The answer is not to erase the anxiety. In fact, you can't. Anxiety can be treated but not cured. We can, however, learn to expect anxiety to show up. And when it does, manage it, so it doesn’t define us.

Anxious Nation offers hope and the promise that we can learn to harness anxious energy and use it for good.