‘Angst’: Giving teens hope, and help for anxiety

Chris Shore is on the board of Faith Connections in Mental Illness.
Chris Shore is on the board of Faith Connections in Mental Illness. contributed

One in three adolescents ages 13 to 18 meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder and have persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dawn and Tim Woody’s daughter, now in her 20s and living with generalized anxiety disorder, exemplifies the one in three; her mental health challenges started during her teen years. Obtaining treatment for their daughter’s mental health has been a battle with the system — from diagnosis (she was initially treated for bipolar disorder) to finding the right medications and ongoing support.

Due to this journey with her daughter, Dawn wanted to be a part of destigmatizing mental illness. She started Stand By Me NC, a nonprofit in the Triangle (now a part of Hillsborough-based Josh’s Hope) with the goal to share stories as a means of confronting and altering the social stigma associated with this disease and gain support to those in our communities living with the effects of mental illness.

Part of Dawn’s vision was a Mental Health Summit on Teen Anxiety to educate teens and parents/mentors on how to navigate care and create a positive foundation for teens with their mental health. This vision came to fruition through a partnership with Faith Connections on Mental Illness on Oct. 6, 2018, with #Angst: A Youth Mental Health Summit at Christ United Methodist Church of Chapel Hill where 115 people gathered.

The summit revolved around a documentary, “Angst,” that explores anxiety as a normal emotion causing worry, apprehension, nervousness and fear. Dealing with these emotions chronically may lead to changes in a person’s day-to-day routine, reactions becoming out of proportion to a situation, and/or motivation lost for activities once enjoyed.

After the film adults and youth participated in separate breakout sessions. While adults received a training on Recognizing and Removing Stigma by Cardinal Innovations discussing the components of stigma (stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination) and strategies for change (respect, advocate, educate, engage), youth had dialogue in small groups on messages from the film and practiced self-care techniques.

Additional breakout sessions included the biology of the anxious brain and moving well through transitions to high school and college.

“For me specifically, within the friends who are all looking at extremely elite colleges, there’s a mentality of being proud of the stress you’re experiencing like it’s a badge of honor,” said Sophie Jin, a senior at East Chapel Hill High School and a member of the summit’s organizing committee comments.

“I am more cognizant of this and the steps to take to dilute the competitive atmosphere from the discussions at the summit,” she said. “Interacting about such a stigmatized topic really showed my peers and me that there is a community of people willing to help that we didn’t know about before.”

This summit provided an opportunity for youth to connect with people who are willing to assist with their mental health and to direct their peers to support to alleviate anxiety. Let’s keep the conversation going, improving the environment to promote healthy mental practices.

Chris Shore is on the board of director of Faith Connections on Mental Illness, www.faithconnectionsonmentalillness.org/