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Eastern Christian School recently screened the movie Angst. We sat down with Middle School and High School principals Dan Lazor and David Intlekofer to discuss the film, the reasons that we screened it, and EC’s response:

Eastern Christian School recently screened the movie “Angst.” What was the plan behind this screening?

We heard about the film ANGST from IndieFlix. These are the same folks who produced Screenagers, which we screened in May of 2016. The idea of showing a film that focuses on anxiety struck a chord with us because of our perception that anxiety is an increasing issue that we see students struggle with. The main goal–for both the creators of the movie and for us–was to start a conversation about anxiety in a safe environment and eliminate the stigma that so often goes along with mental health concerns.

The entire high school saw this movie. What was the student response to it?

Students had a range of responses, but overall it was very positive. After the movie, we broke out into small group discussions, and many students reported that this time was very valuable to them. The collective benefit seemed to be an increase in empathy toward those in our community who struggle with anxiety. For some students, this meant that they better understood the challenges a friend faces. For some others, they acquired the language to talk about the struggle they’ve been facing. For still others, the movie led them to ask our nurse or counselor to help them speak with their parents about the issue so they could get help.

We screened this movie on a school night and invited the community. What was the parental response to this movie?

There was a very rich discussion that the film brought about. Thankfully, we had representatives from the Christian Health Care Center as well as Dr. Jerry Bubrick, who was featured in the film, on hand to act as a panel and answer questions. The main purpose of the film is to raise awareness about the issue of anxiety. I think that it certainly served this purpose, both with the parents who attended as well as with the student body.

As a principal, how do you see anxiety among EC students?

There is some anxiousness that is typical – like the feeling you get before a test or a presentation. This is not a bad thing, but rather a normal response to a fear. The other side of anxiety is one that becomes crippling or overwhelming to students as they struggle to enter the building, start an assignment, speak up in class, etc., or as they begin to experience physical symptoms as a result of their anxiety.

There’s a stigma that mental health issues are not as real as physical ailments – if I break a bone, we can see it on the X-ray, we cast it, etc. However, there is a reality to the struggle that many students face that is beyond just the normal level of anxiety. I think that accepting it as a real struggle for some kids, and being willing to support them in the struggle is important. Identifying the “core fear” that brings about the anxiety is also important, providing the opportunity to think logically and rationally about how the fear and the response do not match. Both the film, the panel, and recent NYTimes articles spoke about “exposure therapy,” in which students who had fears and anxieties were brought to face them, and then had the opportunity to talk through the exposure.

What can parents do to help their children?

It’s common as a parent (or principal, teacher, etc.) to feel powerless when a child experiences anxiety. Unless we struggle with anxiety ourselves, it’s very difficult to even understand how overwhelming it can be. This can make empathy difficult, and it can lead to us feeling like failures for not being able to “fix it.”

The film gave a few tips to help in moments of overwhelming anxiety, such as having the student hold ice cubes in their hands, or using breathing techniques to calm down. However, the bigger question is how do we help students who consistently struggle with debilitating anxiety. To this, the answer is: find professional help. Talk to a counselor or therapist who is experienced with mental health concerns. Recognizing that your child needs help that you can’t provide does not make you a failure as a parent. Rather, it makes you a successful parent when you find your child the help he/she needs.

What advice would you give to a student who has a friend struggling with anxiety?

Encourage the friend to talk to an adult they trust (teacher, pastor, counselor, etc.). And if they won’t do it, then you need to talk to an adult so your friend can get help. This is not a problem that you can fix or a secret that you should keep. Seek wise counsel from an adult.