The University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry will screen the award-winning documentary, “Anxious Nation” at the Michigan Theater on October 25 at 7 p.m., followed by an open discussion by an expert panel, including Producer and Co-Director, Laura Morton.
Anxious Nation explores and captures the many faces and facets of anxiety, and investigates how anxiety shows up and why, and what we can do about it. Above all, Anxious Nation offers hope and solutions to harness anxious energy for good.
Laura Morton, New York Times bestselling author and the producer, writer and co-director of “Anxious Nation” gave an inside scoop on this compelling film and associated issues. The other director is Academy Award-winning director Vanessa Roth.
“In 2018, I was sitting at my desk feeling defeated as a parent,” Morton said. “My daughter, who was 11, had anxiety. It took 7 years to get a diagnosis. It seemed that no matter what we did, she wasn’t getting better or able to really manage her anxiety. I made ‘Anxious Nation’ because I was feeling defeated as a parent. I thought I was failing miserably, especially when it came to my daughter’s anxiety. I am not a mental health professional. I am a mother who was struggling to help my daughter. If our family was struggling, I couldn’t imagine how others were managing. Out of curiosity, I posted one line on Facebook that read, ‘Kids and anxiety—who is dealing with it?’ I received a lot of responses, but it was the private messages that really stunned me. People I knew well were sharing they were also struggling with their kids too. That’s when I realized what was happening in our home, was happening in many homes. What I didn’t know at the time was how widespread it was and continues to be.”
“As a storyteller by trade, I knew there was something happening that needed a big bright light shining on it,” Morton said. “So, I set out to seek answers. Were we more anxious or just more aware of it? If so, why? What was causing it? finally, I wanted concrete answers about what to do. We started filming in 2019 and took 3.5 years to make the film, including throughout COVID, which poured gasoline all over this already burning inferno.”
While anxiety has been around since human beings have existed, it has never been as prevalent as it is today.
“Anxiety has been around since antiquity,” Morton said. “Today, the question of whether or not we are more anxious or more aware of it feels moot. There’s no doubt, we are more anxious than we’ve ever been.”
Morton added that statistically, we are the most anxious nation on the planet. Everyone seems to be feeling anxious now, but some groups experience it even more. According to Morton, the alarming rising rates of anxiety in our country, especially among our youth, are frightening.
A CDC study found that in 2021, 57% of high school girls reported feeling persistently sad or hopeless in the past year and nearly 1 in 3 seriously considered suicide in 2021. These numbers are getting worse.
“This should alarm all of us,” Morton said. “It’s important to understand that our kids are having a natural reaction to the unexpected circumstances they’ve encountered in the past several years, from school shootings to a global pandemic. While social media and our smart devices are contributors to these high rates of anxiety, it is not the root cause. We are a lonely, isolated, and disconnected society.”
Morton added that it is not just our youth who are facing unprecedented anxiety. According to Morton, seniors are the second fastest-growing demographic impacted by anxiety.
“There is simply not a more pressing medical crisis in our country than our battle with mental health,” Morton said.
Additionally, the stigma associated with mental health is unfortunately still very real, many times because of negative ramifications that would come from revealing mental illness.
“In general, for many years, people were afraid to identify as having any mental health issue,” Morton said. “If you did, you could not join the military, might be overlooked for a job or promotion, and in some communities, would be seen as weak. Our youth today are far more willing to talk about their mental health, which gives me great hope that they will be the first generation to end the stigma associated with any type of mental health disorder.”
While there is hope that our youth feel more comfortable discussing mental health, many don’t talk about it because there is still great social stigma, particularly facing certain groups.
“There is still so much shame and stigma around mental health, including anxiety, especially in the brown and black communities,” Morton said. “We, as a nation, must provide more resources and make help easily accessible to all, not just some. And insurance companies must stop limiting the number of sessions someone can have to get well. We wouldn’t limit the number of chemo sessions someone gets if they have cancer. It’s just absurd.”
There are so many facets to these mental health issues, and the film makes great strides in tackling them and even providing some tactics to manage the challenges.
“We discuss stigma, loneliness, isolation, disconnection, the alarming rise in suicide, the dangers of social media, overmedication, incorrect diagnoses, the impact diet has on anxiety, and the horrific mental health ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Morton said. “There are informative takeaways of what to do — different therapies — and what we need to do as a country to make critical changes in our mental healthcare system. Above all, the film offers hope and solutions to harness anxious energy for good. While you cannot cure anxiety, you can learn to manage it, so it doesn’t manage you.”
Morton said that everyone can benefit from seeing the film.
“If you or someone you love is suffering with anxiety, and frankly, who isn’t these days, Anxious Nation will provide you with tremendous insight into why we are an anxious nation and what we can do about it,” Morton said. “We have an all-star cast of experts, including Dan Siegel, Shefali Tsabary, Harold Koplewicz, Lynn Lyons, Kenya Hameed, Jeff Zeig and incredibly open and honest families and kids of all ages, socio-economic backgrounds, and diversity in both culture and how anxiety shows up in their lives. These are real stories about real families that will touch anyone who has anxiety or loves someone who suffers from it.”
While working on the film was challenging, especially during a global pandemic, Morton is happy with the outcome knowing this film is positively impacting lives.
“Making a documentary isn’t for the faint of heart,” Morton said. “Making a documentary about anxiety in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime event such as Covid and lockdown intensified the process. That said, it also gave us an unexpected silver lining—that people are now more prone to talk about their mental well-being than ever before. The shame and stigma have lessened because we are all feeling anxious these days, but by no means has it gone away.”
General admission tickets are $12 per person and $5 per person for students.
Anxious Nation is also available to stream on Amazon Prime, AppleTV, GooglePlay and Anxiousnation.com.
Donna Marie Iadipaolo is a writer, journalist, and State of Michigan certified teacher, since 1990. She has written for national publications like The Village Voice, Ear Magazine of New Music, Insurance & Technology, and TheStreet.
She is now writing locally for many publications, including Current Magazine, Ann Arbor Family, and the Ann Arbor Independent. Her undergraduate degree is from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she graduated with an honors bachelor’s degree and three teacher certificate majors: mathematics, social sciences, English. She also earned three graduate degrees in Master of Science, Master of Arts, and Education Specialist Degree.