Cranbrook fights mental health stigma with special film screening

By: Brendan Losinski, Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published November 6, 2017

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BLOOMFIELD HILLS — That little bit of nervous energy that sets in before a final exam is normal.

But anxiety that impacts daily life, relationships and physical health is not at all normal, though it’s certainly common. And while thousands of young people struggle with mental health issues, the stigma of finding help stops so many from getting the care they need.

Hopefully, that won’t always be the case.

The film “Angst,” produced by moms Scilla Andreen and Karin Gornick, aims to look candidly at the world of chronic anxiety and how students can and should find solutions.

The documentary will be screened privately for students at Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School Dec. 6. Other schools across the country are jumping onboard too to show the film to their students.

“I think it’s a critical topic because if we can equip our students to deal with anxiety, it could help them for their entire life,” said Noël Dougherty, head of Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School. “Anxiety can be the starting point of other deeper issues that can arise. We want students to know how it affects them and how it can be managed.”

Dougherty went on to explain that the documentary was brought to the school’s attention by Cranbrook Kingswood alumna Meg Ferron; the topic is near and dear to her heart because of her personal experiences with anxiety.

“Meg and a clinical psychologist, Dr. Gretchen Moran Marsh, who has a practice in Franklin, and Dr. Michael Young, who works with our students, will all be coming in to answer questions parents may have,” Dougherty said. “This is part of a larger initiative in the upper school that deals with sleep, stress (and) drug prevention with lots of programming and discussion.”

Programming is the key to combating stress and anxiety, according to Carol Mastroianni, executive director of the Birmingham Bloomfield Community Coalition.

“One of the biggest things we’ve found that students appreciate is our Youth Action Board and the events we host for teens. That has really been a sacred space for young people to come to, and some of it really has to do with feeling connected and (having) that safe space where you can just be yourself,” she said.

The connections that students make with each other in a personable environment are so important in a world where young people are more connected than ever, but somehow also more isolated.

“We grew up with that heart-to-heart interaction, and these young people have (smartphones) where everything (is) online, and it’s constant. It’s a 24/7 life — you can run, but you can’t hide from it,” she explained.

Add to that the pressures of school and preparing for college, the stress of having a body that’s still growing and “under construction from head to toe,” as Mastroianni said, and the fact that the brain is deprived of oxygen when stress sets in, and you have a cocktail for anxiety.

“These young people don’t even know what their ‘normal’ is yet, and you put on all those stressors, and they literally can’t think straight. They physically can’t use their brain fully,” she said.

The growing anxieties that  students face became a focus of the coalition, which works to prevent underage drug and alcohol abuse, because you often don’t get to point B before arriving at point A.

“Truly, people normally don’t start taking a substance for no reason at all. Normally, something is going on from the inside out that’s not being addressed,” she said. “In 2016, the last time we did our biannual survey, we asked how overly anxious our students felt in that past month, where they found it hard to take care of their everyday responsibilities. Of the 4,800 eighth- to 12th-graders we surveyed, almost 2,200 said they felt that way. That’s almost half, and it’s only gotten worse.”

To learn more about the Birmingham Bloomfield Community Coalition, visit BBCoalition.org.

To learn more about the film, visit AngstMovie.com.