Say what you will about the Girls star, but Lena Dunham isn't afraid to get noisy — especially on a topic that has affected her so personally.
Dunham, 30, joined Anne Marie Albano, PhD, of New York Presbyterian's Youth Anxiety Center at New York's 92Y for a talk Tuesday night on growing up with anxiety and the stigma mental health disorders still carry, even in 2017.
Though she was officially diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at age 11, Dunham's symptoms surfaced much sooner. "I don't ever remember a time not being anxious," Dunham said, though her parents brushed it off as just a glass-half-empty attitude at first.
A delayed diagnosis is typical, according to Albano. "Kids will suffer for 2 to 7 years before their anxiety is recognized," she said. Still, it's startlingly common — 29 percent of Americans will have an anxiety disorder during their lifetimes, and kids are particularly vulnerable as they transition into adulthood.
I felt myself recoil; like Dunham was somehow telling the audience my own personal struggles in revealing hers.
Like Dunham, I, too, was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at a young age. As she spoke Tuesday night — referencing collect calls to home from school and spending long stretches of the day in the nurse's office — it was like having my own experience dictated back to me. We both began talk therapy in elementary school (she seemed responsive to it; I often said only what the therapist wanted to hear); we both started medication soon after (her, a myriad of drugs including Fluvoxamine and Adderal; me, tried-and-true Paxil); and we both somehow made it to our adult lives relatively unscathed, much to the surprise of our parents. ("[They] are so shocked I don't live at home," Dunham said. Same, Lena.)
Still, anxiety has always been a source of shame for me. Even in hearing Dunham speak openly and honestly about her own — and hearing the crowd laugh when she made a self-deprecating joke — I felt myself recoil; like she was somehow telling the audience my own personal struggles in revealing hers.
That shame is what Dunham and Albano are trying to fight — and it starts with urging parents to let go of the stigma surrounding anxiety disorders, and raising awareness about those disorders among parents and educators alike.
One thing to keep in mind: Sometimes anxiety is completely normal — a result of that whole being a living, breathing human being thing. It's when those feelings become more frequent and start to interfere with daily activities that a larger issue is at hand. If you suspect your child is suffering from disordered anxiety, it's important to try the therapy route — talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy — before anything more extreme. "If your child doesn't want to go to therapy, go yourself," Albano said, to give it a sense of normalcy. It's not about "curing" them right away (or at all, for that matter); the first and foremost step is to make them feel safe and secure enough to talk through their anxious feelings.
As for Dunham and myself, we've done OK. "[Those anxious feelings] are not gone, I just have ways of managing them," Dunham said, and I concur. And because we've both been given voices — hers notably louder than mine — where many other anxiety sufferers haven't, it's time to start using them to fight against the stigma still attached to anxiety and other mental health disorders.
"Tweet about it, write about it, talk about it — just don't hide it," Albano said. "We have to let go of the shame."