In recent years, celebrities like Lena Dunham, Kendall Jenner, Pete Wentz, J.K. Rowling and Selena Gomez have opened up about their challenges with anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses. And their sharing helps others; the more comfortable we are talking openly about mental health issues, the more likely it will be that people will seek help or take concrete steps to address their condition.
One of the least understood — and most common — forms of mental illness is anxiety, which over 40 million Americans currently suffer from. Author and filmmaker Susan Polis Schutz recently debuted "It's 'Just' Anxiety," a film on PBS, to coincide with Mental Health Month in May. (Note: The film appears to be limited release initially, but you can check the Iron Zeal Films website for the broadcast schedule.)
Ultimately, Schutz wants to ensure that people dealing with anxiety don't become isolated because of it. “Connecting with others who are going through the same things you’re experiencing makes you feel less alone — and same for the people who watch my films. I hope they feel less alone,” Schutz told MNN.
Encouraging people to get help
To that end, "It's 'Just' Anxiety" is especially useful for those who need an intro to what anxiety is and how it can manifest in different people. It includes a dozen people of various ages, races and backgrounds. Some of them have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), while others have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder or phobias. And others just have symptoms of overwhelming fear and worry.
The documentary explores the various symptoms and the treatments shown to be effective. Some people use medication and/or therapy, others implement holistic lifestyle changes, and for some, the exposure method (where you directly confront the things you fear most) is the key.
One of the messages of the film is that there are ways to effectively treat anxiety — and dealing with it shouldn't be avoided. “The more you avoid anxiety the worse it gets,” according to Jim Hatton, Ph.D., a San Diego-based therapist whose anxiety and OCD support group is featured in the film.
Friends and family, as well as mental-health professionals, also speak in the film to show what supporting someone with anxiety looks like. “Our families, our friends — having their support is tremendous, even just by being present," says Schutz. "And I know so many people who have loved ones that struggle with mental illness and want to know more about how they can help."
This film could very well be a lifesaver to those who suffer quietly from anxiety. As much as it's talked about, anxiety is different from feeling nervous before a big event, or worrying about whether you locked the door when you left the house. Because it's so common, many people may not realize their anxiety level is much higher than necessary and there are ways to deal with it. The very nature of anxiety makes us want to avoid situations where we are thinking about it — but that confrontation is key in dealing with it.
“This film is for anyone who has been touched by a devastating anxiety, along with their friends and loved ones because it is important to see that people are not alone. It’s 'Just' Anxiety shows that, and gives people the hope that they absolutely can recover," says Schutz.