On Wednesday, September 13, only several days after Hurricane Irma made its way through Central Florida, approximately 130 local parents, students, school staff and community members attended a private screening of the documentary ANGST hosted at the Enzian theater in Maitland. Made possible by the Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF) for the Winter Park Consortium (WPC) secondary schools, ANGST is a 56-minute film and virtual reality experience that’s opening the door to a conversation around childhood anxiety. In addition to starting this conversation and raising awareness, the film includes input from mental health experts on root causes of anxiety and offers tools and resources for the viewer. The WPC screening was the second one held in the nation.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and can actually be beneficial in some situations. For some people, however, anxiety can become excessive, and while the person suffering may realize it is excessive they may also have difficulty controlling it, and it may negatively affect their day-to-day living.” The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports, “Anxiety disorders affect 25.1% of children between 13 and 18 years old. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.” Within the WPC schools, the Community Help and Intervention in Life’s Lessons (CHILL) counselors often help students with anxiety disorders and issues navigate through school and life, providing them resources and strategies to manage their behaviors in a positive, constructive manner. In fact, one of the most frequently held and popular group counseling sessions is helping students address feelings of anxiety and depression.
After the screening, two CHILL counselors – Kelly Walker (Maitland Middle School) and Caitlyn McDonald (Winter Park 9th Grade Center) – guided the audience through a brief mindfulness exercise and discussed the MindUp curriculum CHILL counselors are currently implementing in all twelve of the WPC schools through a grant from the Aetna Foundation and in partnership with the Hawn Foundation. The CHILL counselors also held a question and answer session around strategies for coping with anxiety at home and in school, the role parents and caregivers can play, identification of warning signs, and when it’s appropriate to allow students to handle anxiety on their own versus when intervention may be needed.
The film screening was an emotional viewing and engaged the audience fully. Feedback from parents and community members to the screening organizers was very positive. Several noted they would like to bring ANGST to a broader audience in the Central Florida community. School administrators and staff also provided positive feedback. The film’s message ties into ongoing efforts in the WPC secondary schools to promote a culture of understanding and empathy, including Challenge Day and its follow up component, Be The Change. One of the key organizers of the screening, Stacey Cox who is a parent to a Winter Park High School student noted, “I think every parent took something away from this film.”
Thank you to Stacey Cox, parent of a WPHS student and Director of Membership for the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, for providing content for this article. Click here to learn more about ANGST, meet the filmmakers and view the trailer.