A short documentary entitled Finding Our Way: The Struggle with Anxiety and Depression in Urban Youth premiered at the Liberty Center in Berwyn, Illinois, on August 26.
The film was produced, in part, by a group of students from Morton West and Morton East high schools in near-west suburban Chicago.
A year in the making, the Youth Leadership Program’s film focuses on teen depression and anxiety. Its purpose, says the group’s website, “is to provide greater awareness of important social issues and the value of youth to the local community.”
Eight young people from Berwyn and Cicero—Emmanuel Pina, Marcoantonio Cervantes, Sheila Sanchez, Brandy Valdes, Lucy Contreras, Michelle Roman, Christian Moran, and Isaac Saucedo—conducted more than 300 surveys asking teens what they were most concerned about.
“The youth talked about how, in some ways, they felt that teen pregnancy wasn’t the highest issue; it was the highest visible issue,” My Suburban Life quoted Joel Wallen, youth development programs director for Youth Crossroads, as saying.
The 42-year-old nonprofit has assisted tens of thousands of young people and their families from the Berwyn, Cicero, Stickney, Forest View, and Lyons, Illinois communities. they work with school districts, government agencies, police departments, and other human service organizations to provide youth and family counseling services, crisis intervention for runaway and locked-out youth, school- and community-based trauma response and prevention programs, after-school enrichment programs, and youth leadership development services.
After some reflection about their anecdotal evidence, the high school students-turned-filmmakers decided to focus their film on anxiety and depression among teenagers.
“One of the primary reasons I wanted to get involved … is I noticed that at home my brother has depression and anxiety, but my parents don’t take it seriously,” the paper quoted Ms Contreras as saying.
Studies for more than a decade, including this one out of John Hopkins University in Baltimore, have documented depression and anxiety among urban youth, particularly in African-American communities. There is great emphasis in the literature about the best ways to differentiate between the two psychological conditions or diagnoses.
Researchers at Hopkins studied 467 urban African-American sixth- through ninth-grade students using the Baltimore How I Feel survey, which measures anxiety and depressive symptoms. They concluded that the tripartite model of anxiety and depression appeared to be a reasonably accurate way to differentiate between the symptoms of anxiety in urban youth and those of depression.
The “tripartite model of anxiety and depression,” as it’s called, helps psychologists make a better diagnosis to distinguish between anxiety and depression. The model divides the symptoms of anxiety and depression into three big groups:
- Negative affect
- Positive affect
- Physiological hyperarousal
The Tripartite Model was first proposed by Lee Anna Clark and David Watson of Southern Methodist University in 1991. The paper linked in has been cited some 3,300 times in other scholarly journals.
Other researchers have noted the prevalence of anxiety and depression among urban youth. Using self-reported data, like the Berwyn filmmakers, researchers at the University of North Carolina concluded five years ago that the risk of anxiety (28.8%) was higher among first-generation immigrant 12- to 19-year-olds than the risk they would expect among a general population of people the same age, typically 13 to 20 percent. They measured anxiety, though, by collecting data on a wider range of anxiety levels than the studies they compared it to, so their rate may have been inflated due to procedural differences.
They also estimate the risk of depression among first-generation Latino youth (6.8%) was about the same as that observed in the general population. It’s therefore important to differentiate between anxiety and depression using an approved diagnostic test, though the two conditions sometimes go together.
Other filmmakers have also explored the subject of depression in young people, lobbying artistic work at the question, How do the different emotions work in the mind? Pixar, for example, in the movie Inside Out, released last year, took a stab at trying to understand how “sadness” (a character in the story) touches everything and turns even happy memories into sad ones. Given an audience in the right frame of mind, Inside Out can help people, including young kids, understand what emotions are and how they affect us.
With the work in Berwyn, I hope exploring this subject with real kids, getting their own words on the record, will help build understanding of how depression and anxiety affect young people in general and urban youth in particular.
We review movies in order to support Illinois Learning Standards in the fine arts, especially 26.A.4b (Understand how the primary tools, support tools and creative processes—researching, auditioning, designing, directing, rehearsing, refining, presenting—interact and shape drama, theater and film production), 26.A.5 (Analyze and evaluate how the choice of media, tools, technologies and processes support and influence the communication of ideas), and 27.B.5 (Analyze how the arts shape and reflect ideas, issues or themes in a particular culture or historical period), among others.