Childhood anxiety disorders cause extreme fears, worry, and changes in children’s behaviour, sleep, eating and mood. Childhood anxiety disorders include generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, selective mutism, specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive behaviour, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
If you have watched episodes of the Red Table Talk, you would know that Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith and Gammy do not shy away from tackling interesting, and sometimes controversial subjects. And, one of the latest episodes of the series was no different.
In the Red Table Talk episode titled Kim Basinger and Ireland Baldwin: Living with Anxiety, Panic Attacks, and Phobias, Ireland Baldwin and Willow Smith discuss their experiences with childhood anxiety. Ireland spoke candidly about her mental illness and its impact on her life. In this conversation, Willow Smith shared her own experiences with childhood anxiety and how it affected life and her relationship with her mother.
In this article, I present the 6 things I learned from their open conversation about childhood anxiety.
Although I watched the entire interview, the main focus of this article is the conversation between Willow Smith and Ireland Baldwin.
1. Anxiety is a Struggle for Many People Globally.
At the start of her conversation, Willow Smith said that 264 million people globally experience some form of anxiety or panic attacks. That’s a lot of people.
It turns out that the estimates are higher than that. According to official global estimates, 284 million have an anxiety disorder which ranges from 2.5 to 7% by country. This estimate puts anxiety disorders as the most prevalent mental illness disorder in the world with more women (63%) than men experiencing an anxiety disorder.
For childhood anxiety, global estimates show that 3.6% of children aged 10-14 years old and 4.6% of children aged 15-19 years old have an anxiety disorder.
2. Mental Illness Stigma Equals Shame.
“I didn’t want to call it anxiety for a long time because I think it makes you feel weak. It makes you feel like you’re put in a box of sorts.”Ireland Baldwin.
Ireland Baldwin said that she felt shame in having a mental illness, and because of that, she did not want to recognise that she had anxiety.
What Ireland Baldwin described in this interview is mental illness self-stigma. Mental illness self-stigma is when someone with a mental health disorder turns the public’s perception, prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination about mental illness onto themselves.
One study found that African-American children had greater negativity towards others with a mental health disorder which was perpetuated by their parents and other influential people in their lives (Kranke, Floersch, Kranke, & Munson, 2011). Also, Black boys were more likely than girls and other racial groups to stigmatise other children with mental health disorders (DuPont-Reyes, Villatoro, Phelan, & Link, 2020).
Research shows that mental illness self-stigma was linked to people not seeking help for their mental health disorders (Shnyder, Rodoslaw, Groth, & Shultze-Lutter, 2018). For children with anxiety disorders, the stigma around mental health disorders can affect their seeking and getting treatment.
3. Childhood Anxiety and Public Scrutiny: A Bad Combination.
Both Willow and Ireland said their anxiety worsened with public scrutiny and public perception. Being in the gaze of the public eye affected the way they felt about themselves and they struggled with body image issues.
Luckily, many children do not have to experience their mental health disorders on the public stage. However, these days, many children are on social media, and this would be the average child’s equivalence to growing up in the public eye like Willow Smith and Ireland Baldwin.
Research has shown the negative impact of social media on children’s mental health. Children who used social media more had poor quality sleep, lower self-esteem and higher levels of anxiety and depression (Cleland Woods & Scott, 2016). Similarly, as in the cases of Willow and Ireland, the added pressure of being bullied, talked about and criticised has led to poorer mental health for many children.
4. My Parent Does Not Understand My Childhood Anxiety.
In the same episode, Willow shared that her mother did not understand her childhood anxiety; Jada minimised Willow’s issues and made her feel like a brat. According to Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow had a good life and had not experienced the hardships she endured as a child. However, for Willow, her mother not understanding her childhood anxiety created a distance between them, which she had to forgive her mother for later.
On the flip side, Ireland said her mother supported her through her experience of childhood anxiety. Kim Basinger, Ireland’s mother, had her own issues with childhood anxiety and immediately recognised its development in Ireland when she was a child.
Research shows that supportive parenting can reduce children’s anxiety symptoms and is just as effective as cognitive behavioural therapy.
The difference in how both mothers’ responses to their children’s anxiety made a difference in the lived experiences of both Willow Smith and Ireland Baldwin. Not knowing what anxiety was or how to recognise it caused Jada Pinkett Smith to minimise her daughter’s experience with the mental disorder; this led to pain for Willow and a fracture in their relationship.
5. Anxiety and Substance Abuse.
Ireland talked about anxiety and substance abuse. She mentioned that she drank and took pills which resulted in her going to rehab. The combination of anxiety, substance abuse, and being in a bad romantic relationship left her feeling “lifeless” and suicidal during her youth.
Like Ireland Baldwin, many children who experience anxiety disorders also abuse substances. Research shows that people who have high levels of anxiety use alcohol to lessen their symptoms and cope with anxious feelings (McCauley Ohannessian, 2014). One study found that African American boys with higher levels of generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder used more substances than their white peers and girls. Meanwhile, there was no link between childhood anxiety and substance use in African American girls (McCauley Ohannessian, 2014).
6. Anxiety Runs in the Family.
Ireland’s mom, Kim Basinger, also has anxiety. During the interview, Kim Basinger spoke about her own experiences with anxiety which started in childhood and was linked to her mother’s anxiety. It was clear to see the thread of anxiety running through three generations of women which affected their childhoods.
Similarly, Jada Pinkett Smith talked about her own experiences with anxiety but she did not recognise it. For her, this failure to recognise her own experiences with anxiety affected her response and understanding of Willow’s childhood anxiety.
There is enough data to show that anxiety runs in families. Studies have shown that children of parents with anxiety disorders are more likely to develop anxiety in childhood. One study showed that children with anxiety disorders were two and three times more likely to have at least one parent with an anxiety disorder (Telman, van Steensel, Maric, & Bögels, 2018).
Anxiety disorders are a combination of genetic and environmental factors and it is estimated that anxiety is 30% inherited. While genes might expose children to anxiety, certainly, their environment will play an equally important role in the development of anxiety.
Did you watch the Red Table Talk interview? What do you think about what was shared?
- Cleland Woods, H., & Scott, H. (2016). #Sleepyteens: Social media use in adolescence is associated with poor sleep quality, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. 41-49. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2016.05.008
- DuPont-Reyes, M. J., Villatoro, A. P., Phelan, J., & Link, B. G. (2020). Adolescent Views of Mental Illness Stigma: An Intersectional Lens. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 90(2), 201-211. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ort0000425
- Kranke, D., Floersch, J., Kranke, B. O., & Munson, M. R. (2011, August 1). A Qualitative Investigation of Self-Stigma Among Adolescents Taking Psychiatric Medication. Psychiatry Online. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1176/ps.62.8.pss6208_0893
- McCauley Ohannessian, C. (2014). Anxiety and Substance Use during Adolescence. Subst Abus, 35(4), 418-425. doi:10.1080/08897077.2014.953663
- Shnyder, N., Rodoslaw, P., Groth, N., & Shultze-Lutter, F. (2018). Association between mental health-related stigma and active help-seeking: Systematic review and meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry(210), 261-268. doi:doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.116.189464
- Telman, L. G., van Steensel, F. J., Maric, M., & Bögels, S. M. (2018). What are the odds of anxiety disorders running in families? A family study of anxiety disorders in mothers, fathers, and siblings of children with anxiety disorders. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry, 27, 615-624. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5945734/pdf/787_2017_Article_1076.pdf
3 Replies to “On Anxiety: 6 Things I Learned from Willow Smith’s Red Table Talk about Childhood Anxiety”