Anxious Nation is a new documentary directed by Academy Award winner Vanessa Roth (Freeheld). She takes a deep dive into the current crisis of anxiety, with a particular emphasis on how it’s affecting American youth and their families. Whilst this documentary focuses on youth, the issues raised apply to anyone suffering from anxiety.
In the 1980s, when I was growing up, anxiety was rarely recognized as an issue. Back then parents of teenagers were concerned about underage pregnancies, binge drinking, drug taking and smoking. As 80s teenagers, however, we had every reason to feel anxious – we were living through racist, homophobic, sexist times of high unemployment, a constant nuclear threat, and under the cloud of the untreatable AIDS epidemic. So why didn’t we feel as anxious as today’s youth?
Presenter Kathy Ireland talks to many anxious teenagers and their parents, as well as a few child psychologists, to ascertain the reasons for today’s wave of anxiety, and offers some solutions.
Firstly, it appears that a major contributor to an anxious youth is an anxious parent. Whether it’s nature or nurture, a child can easily pick up on a parent’s anxiety and this in turn unsettles the child. Life is more stressful for many families these days, with high property costs and low job security. Children, however, need to be shielded from these adult stresses. The current trend to be a perfect parent raising the perfect high-achieving kid also causes a lot of stress and pressure for children. The kids are overwhelmed. Such parenting goals didn’t exist back in the day and are clearly damaging our youth – it’s bad parenting. This is shown in several of Ireland’s interviews with many of the helicopter parents appearing quite overbearing. As poet Philip Larkin famously wrote.
“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to but they do
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you”
Secondly, we are all constantly bombarded by social-media images of supposedly perfect people with perfect bodies, living perfect lives. These images create a lot of pressure in young people to live up to an unachievable ideal. Achievement anxiety, social anxiety, body-image anxiety. We are also flooded by news images 24/7, mostly bad news of war, hateful, divisive political actions and crime. The media use fear and hate to control us, pitting different societal groups against each other – eg: queers and evangelicals – to make us spend more time on their media websites so they can generate more advertising revenue. This also causes a lot of anxiety in our youth as they feel helpless and fearful of growing up. The obvious solution here is to severely limit time spent on social media, as well as watching and reading bad news.
Another factor causing anxiety is that we all spend a lot more time alone than we used to. This was particularly true during the covid pandemic. Being alone allows irrational thinking to take over and overwhelm.
Nowadays we seem almost too keen to diagnose anxiety in a person, with an expectation to cure every natural human mental health issue. Ireland questions whether talking about and diagnosing anxiety can actually be exacerbating the issue, especially if the child then believes they have a long-term, permanent diagnosis, and unable to move on from this. We also see parents going out of their way to accommodate anxiety-induced extreme behaviour which doesn’t seem to help either. Completely ignoring anxiety is also not a solution. This was the approach back in the day and probably led to the aforementioned binge drinking, drug taking, smoking and teenage pregnancies as we self-medicated through our youth. The solution is to offer the anxiety sufferer skill-building knowledge. How to recognise the triggers of anxiety. How to reduce the irrational fear around anxiety, and also how to normalise the fear. We need to remember that sadness, uncertainly, distress, disappointment and stress are all normal feelings experienced by everyone.
In conclusion, we see that today’s kids, and many adults too, are over-stimulated, over-analyzed, over-parented, over-targeted, over-diagnosed and over-medicated. We just need to get over ourselves.
WORLD PREMIERE LIVESTREAM EVENT May 3 BUY TICKETS Opens in select theaters nationwide and Anxious Nation virtual cinema on May 5
Queerguru’s Contributing Editor Ris Fatah is a successful fashion/luxury business consultant (when he can be bothered) who divides and wastes his time between London and Ibiza. He is a lover of all things queer, feminist, and human rights in general. @ris.fatah
Labels: 2023, anxiety, Anxious Nation, documentary, Kathy Ireland, review, Ris Fatah, Vanessa Rothe