Santa Barbara International Film Festival movie shows how young people and their families
are dealing with anxiety
Laura Morton’s daughter Sevey struggled with anxiety since she was a baby.
Ms. Morton felt defeated as a parent and didn’t understand why her daughter wasn’t getting better. This led her to wonder how other families were dealing with the mental health of their children.
Ms. Morton teamed up with Santa Barbara entrepreneur Kathy Ireland and Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Vanessa Roth to create “Anxious Nation,” which will screen at 1:20 p.m. Sunday at Fiesta Five, 916 State St., as part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
The 100-minute documentary will be shown again at the same theater at 4:20 p.m. Tuesday.
Ms. Morton and her daughter Sevey, who’s doing well today but continues to work on her anxiety, are featured in the movie, along with other families and experts such as Dr. Shefali Tsabery and Tim Storey, both of “Super Soul Sunday,” a self-help talk show hosted by Montecito celebrity Oprah Winfrey; Harold Koplewicz, founder of the Child Mind Institute; Lynn Lyons, author of “The Anxiety Audit,” and Kenya Hameed, a clinical neuropsychologist with the Child Mind Institute. Experts also include Jeff Zeig of the Erikson Institute and founder of Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference.
Ms. Morton, a New York Times bestselling author who lives in San Diego, and Ms. Roth are the movie’s directors and writers. Ms. Morton and Steve Purcell are the producers.
“It’s film you have to experience,” said Ms. Ireland, the movie’s executive producer and a former supermodel and TV actress. “There are not adequate words to describe it. It’s very helpful in initiating conversations. It’s powerful.
“I believe what sets this movie apart is its authenticity, its honesty,” Ms. Ireland told the News-Press this week. “We experience the lives of several different children, teenagers, young people, their families and leading experts in the medical community. It takes such an honest look (at anxiety).
“Anxiety does not discriminate, regardless of economics or ethnicity,” she said. “I believe Santa Barbara is a microcosm of an anxious nation.
“I know families who are suffering from this (anxiety), and they need to understand they’re not alone, that there’s hope,” Ms. Ireland said. “It shines a bright light on that.”
She stressed the importance of discussing anxiety, the root of problems such as crime and suicides, and detaching anxiety from any stigma.
“I have served on boards of education for over 25 years,” Ms. Ireland said. “I have a huge place in my heart for young people.”
Ms. Ireland also said she and Ms. Morton, a New York Times bestselling author, have known each other for years.
Ms. Morton told the News-Press that “Anxious Nation,” which had its world premiere in October, has been screened at nine festivals, including the Corona Film Festival, where it won the best female filmmaker award.
“For me, the greatest reaction have been the emails through our website, anxiousnation.com,” Ms. Morton said. She said people have told her they realize they and their families aren’t alone after watching “Anxious Nation.” “They say, ‘I thought it was just happening in our home.’”
Ms. Ireland said “Anxious Nation” will provide some tools for dealing with anxiety and will help people realize they don’t have to be defined by their anxiety.
“I’ve seen such a sense of relief when people walk out of the theater having experienced ‘Anxious Nation,’” she said.
Ms. Morton said the documentary addresses the importance of using the proper medication in treating anxiety. She noted it’s not one size fits all and that the correct diagnosis plays a crucial role.
“We decided to let the stories of medications unfold organically,” she said. “One of our cast members was overly medicated and wrongly medicated. Some were properly medicated, and it helped and worked.
“If you’re properly diagnosed, medication can help,” Ms. Morton said. “If you’re improperly diagnosed or wrongly medicated, medication can hurt you.
“And not everyone needs medication,” she added.
She also noted medication doesn’t have to be long-term.
Ms. Morton said many kids deal successfully with their anxiety through creative pursuits such as music, dance and sports. “There’s a lot of ways you can channel your energy.”
Ms. Ireland noted that one girl in “Anxious Nation” shared her faith in God as a healing force. “As Laura said, everybody is unique.”
“We talk about finding something that works for you,” Ms. Morton said. “Finding a therapist — we liken it to finding a good pair of jeans.”
Ms. Morton said her daughter has found acting to be therapeutic.
“Sevey is in high school,” Ms. Morton said. “Sevey is still working on her anxiety and uses tools. She’s doing great.”
“She’s been my greatest teacher, since the day she was born,” Ms. Morton said. “Having this open dialogue between us keeps us well aware of where we are individually and together.”