Film Review: “Anxious Nation” Offers Fine Cinematic Therapy
Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | May 5th, 2023
Anxious Nation (Laura Morton/Vanessa Roth, 2022) 3 out of 4 stars.
In the new documentary Anxious Nation, directors Laura Morton (a best-selling author making her feature-film debut) and Vanessa Roth (Mary J Blige’s My Life) explore the many different ways in which children and young adults suffer from anxiety in our modern world. Morton is herself a partial subject, since her daughter, Sevey, is one such teenager. But the movie covers a far wider array of onscreen interviewees, offering a robust profile of folks who struggle with this debilitating condition.
As an early title card tells us, three decades ago the primary threats to teens were binge-drinking, drunk driving, pregnancy, and smoking. These days, the landscape has changed, as the rates of people having problems stemming from those risks have decreased. In their place we see an alarming rise in mental-health crises.
Why? If Anxious Nation has a mild flaw, it’s in its explanation of that reason, though it does offer by way of cause the excess stimulation and evaluation stemming from social media. Plus, we have “the ability to know everything all the time,” as psychotherapist Lynn Lyons (a terrific talking-head expert whose wise words run throughout the movie) details. Social media exacerbates feelings of inadequacy, and anxiety thrives in isolation, which time spent on phones and computers makes an ever more present aspect of our reality. I certainly stand guilty as charged. And the COVID-19 pandemic did not help in this regard.
Where the documentary absolutely shines is in its exploration of what to do in the face of these elevated rates of anxiety. Lyons, as whip-smart as she absolutely is, is by far not the only cogent voice here. We also hear from Dr. Shefali and others, all of whom offer sage advice, most of which centers around the notion of helping young people become the best versions of themselves to be functioning adults.
And then we hear from the primary subjects—and their parents—all of whom have moving stories to tell. We learn that anxiety can run in one’s DNA and also be passed on through upbringing (intentionally or not). Nature and nurture, in other words, play a role; anxious fathers and mothers who have never resolved their own mental-health concerns need help, too. In short, we all stand to benefit from watching Anxious Nation and taking its lessons to heart. The movie proves excellent cinematic therapy, with a call to action at the end, as well. Sign me up for a session, please.