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Mother of anxious child explores mental health crisis gripping young adults in 'Anxious Nation'

Best-selling author Laura Morton and Academy Award-winning director Vanessa Roth shine a light on the global anxiety crisis affecting young adults and families in their new documentary “Anxious Nation.”

The film, which is being released this week at the start of Mental Health Awareness Month, features how crippling anxiety can hurt young adults, aged 10-26, and families. Morton explained that as the “mother of an anxious child” herself, she had a personal stake in the project as she set out to figure out how parents with fewer means are navigating the same struggles. Her daughter Sevey served as an inspiration for the film and is featured in the documentary.

“The reason why I set out to make this film is because I’m the mother of an anxious child,” Morton told Fox News Digital. “And I thought, you know, that what was happening at our home was only happening in our home. And I started to make this film. And, you know, the idea came to me in 2018, and we started filming in 2019. And a lot has happened in the last four years, and I was really feeling incredibly defeated as a mom. And I was sitting at my desk and I thought, panicked, ‘You know, if my family is struggling, how in the world are other families getting through this?'” 

Laura Morton and daughter Sevey

Laura Morton and her daughter Sevey in a scene from “Anxious Nation.” (Still from “Anxious Nation.”)

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Following her research, Morton said she can point to multiple factors that cause anxiety, starting with genetics. 

“There are some kids that are just prone to be more anxious,” she said. “And, you know, like some kids are prone to be a piano player or great at a sport. Some kids are just wired to be more anxious, we’re all wired to be anxious. And you want to be anxious in the right circumstances. It’s in our DNA, the fight or flight response.” 

“What happens is when that fight or flight response goes awry, and it starts becoming… It interferes in your everyday life,” she continued. “So we see that happen a lot with kids who can’t take tests. They can’t go to school. They think it’s too hard for them. And that’s because that fight or flight response in those little bodies is overwhelming.” 

Young woman writing

A young woman takes a break to do something analog like writing in her journal and drinking tea. This is a healthy practice for those who experience anxiety. (iStock)

The film features several intimate moments with families as they navigate the challenges that come with anxiety. Nicole Cochrane battled body image issues and dealt with anxiety and panic attacks to the point where she parked on a bridge and contemplated suicide. Fortunately, her dad found her before she hurt herself. 

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An additional factor leading to increased stress that the film explores is that many parents have never dealt with their own anxiety and may be inadvertently worsening their child’s struggle.

“I think we’ve got a generation of very anxious parents who never dealt with their own anxiety, and they know how bad it felt, and they don’t want their kids to feel as bad as they do,” she said. “So in the process of wanting to do right by their kids, they’re actually creating more anxiety.”

Today’s generation of young adults struggling with anxiety have their own unique set of difficult circumstances, Morton noted. In 2021, more than a third (37%) of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 44% reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless, according to CDC data published in March 2022.

Mental health teens

Teen girls can be among the most difficult to help open up about mental health struggles.  (iStock)

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“Nobody really asks this anymore, but… I told people I was making this movie and people were just like, ‘But are we really more anxious or we just more aware of it?’” she said. “And in 2019, it was a good question. It was a fair question. And my answers haven’t changed. The answer is we are more anxious and there’s a lot of reasons for that. But in 2023, I think nobody would debate that. I don’t know a single family not struggling with anxiety on some level.”

In recent years celebrities such as Selena Gomez and Emma Stone have been using their massive platforms to open up about their own struggles with social anxiety and mental health. Morton said several high-profile people were also eager to support “Anxious Nation.” Kathy Ireland, who serves as an executive producer on the film, called the project “powerful,” “important,” and “necessary.”

One of the most striking features of “Anxious Nation” is a series of artwork by children from all over the world struggling with anxiety.

“The artwork is so powerful because it really is an expression of how our kids are feeling,” Morton said, crediting Roth with coming up with the idea.

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“Art is such a wonderful outlet,” she added. “When we talk about taking anxiety and harnessing it, and using it for good, taking that and pouring it into something creative like a piece of art is so helpful.”

Viewers can follow the virtual worldwide premiere of “Anxious Nation” on www.anxiousnation.com on Wednesday. The film is available on Friday on the www.anxiousnation.com virtual cinema and in theaters in Los Angeles and New York starting Friday, and opening around the country in the coming weeks. 

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