Evan Hansen was certain of one thing: He was a nobody who mattered to no one. “I’m waving through a window, oh, can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?” the character sings in the acclaimed Broadway musical, “Dear Evan Hansen.” Based on a true incident, the play tells the story of a high school student who has social anxiety disorder – and no friends. Until he makes up a terrible lie.

No one ever said it was easy being a teenager. But in 2017, suicide became the second-leading cause of death in young adults (replacing murder and following accidents), according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

To open the discussion of the increasing isolation, stress and challenges faced not only by today’s teens but also adults, children and people with learning and social differences, Opening the Doors will present a screening of the documentary “Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety,” followed by a panel discussion and dessert reception, at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 18, at Adat Shalom Synagogue. There is a $5 charge for the event, which is open to the public and will include extensive resource materials from mental health professionals, education experts and teen support groups. The event concludes a series of programs for families, educators and mental health professionals during Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month.

“Our goal is to start a dialogue, raise awareness and understanding, to educate, engage, share ways our community is inclusive and supportive, and to empower teens and their families so they are familiar with options which help them become more resilient and comfortable asking for help,” said Ellen Maiseloff, senior director of Special Needs, Opening the Doors Program at the Jewish  Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit. “We would like to provide the message, like ‘Dear  Evan Hansen,’ that ‘You are not alone.’”

The film “Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety” features interviews with Olympic champion Michael Phelps, mental health experts and children and teens who have anxiety, believed to affect 54 percent of all females and 46 of all males. The documentary also discusses the little-known fact that anxiety is often treatable – though only one-third of those with the disorder seek professional help.

Among those included on the March 18 panel is Rabbi Yarden Blumstein, teen director of the Friendship Circle and coordinator of the Friendship Circle program UMatter, which receives support from the Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety.

The panel will also include:

  • ​Lori Blumenstein-Bott, MSW, LMSW, executive director of the Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety
  • Perry Ohren, MSW, chief executive officer of Jewish Family Service of Metro Detroit
  • Jeremy Baruch, M.D. psychiatry resident at Michigan Medicine, consultant, Federation’s Raising the Bar program
  • Jessica Purtan Harrell, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist, Farmington Hills

What, exactly, is anxiety?

The term “anxiety”  is used to describe everything from what a student may feel before taking an important test to the terrible fear of someone who is literally too frightened to leave his home. The “Angst” documentary is an excellent place to help families understand the various types of anxiety and consider where and when to find help, Rabbi Blumstein said.

Exacerbating the situation is the fact that many teens do not seek professional guidance but instead try to self-diagnose or self-medicate, he added. Some professionals also point to the adverse effects of social media and extraordinary pressure on teens to do well in school, attend a prestigious university or excel in sports and other activities. Ultimately, families will have to understand what’s at the core of their child’s problems and develop tools to help them cope,” Rabbi Blumstein said. It takes time, patience and dedication, but therapy can help rebuild the muscles of the spirit and mind much like exercise helps rebuild the muscles of the body.

About Opening the Doors

Opening the Doors, a nationally recognized program, enables 1,100 children with diverse learning differences and unique abilities to participate in a quality, meaningful and inclusive Jewish education. By convening collaborations and working in partnership with schools, educational and mental health organizations, Opening the Doors provides innovative educational and community services which educate, empower, inspire, include and create unimaginable moments for families making dreams of a Jewish education come true, they may not have thought possible.

For information, contact Ellen Maiseloff: emaiseloff@jccdet.org or 248.432.5530.