Fiona stood before the four dozen guests Monday night at New York’s Café Clover, recalling her experience in her second year of college: “I didn’t have that supportive group to sit with on the lawn during sunny days, or in the library when we prepped for finals,” she remembered, adding that she noticed on Instagram how friends from high school were forming “kinds of connections that I envied.” Though she initially credited her anxiety to “a sophomore slump,” Fiona wasn’t looking forward to her junior year. “I couldn’t imagine returning to the same stress and isolation I had experienced over the past year,” she said.
Anna Wintour and Vera Wang were thinking not only about girls like Fiona, but also their own children when they joined forces five years ago to support the Youth Anxiety Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Since its inception in 2013, the Youth Anxiety Center has treated more than 65,000 teenagers and young adults, including Fiona, with services ranging from outpatient and group therapy to a college readiness program.
“Vera and I both have children the same age, and once they become teenagers and go off to college, it can be such a difficult age — they look grown up and are meant to act grown up, but they’re not,” Wintour explained. “We heard a lot of stories about kids going off to college and not being able to cope because they lost their support structure, as well as how much stigma remains around mental health. We wanted to make it a much more open discussion and help this particular age group.”
“I’ve confided in Anna for years — not about fashion, necessarily, but about being mothers,” Wang said. “There’s no handbook for raising children, and more than ever, kids are thrown into this competitive world, a desire for marks, a desire to get into a good college. It’s challenging when kids get lost.”
A shared goal to find solutions led to Wang and Wintour’s partnership in 2013 to raise funds for the newly created Youth Anxiety Center; they asked Tory Burch to join them a year later. “We’re all moms, and very few celebrities will come clean on the subject of mental health, but we have to find ways to move past that,” Wang said.
The trio was joined on Monday night by Zac Posen, Michael Kors and his husband, Lance Le Pere, Wintour’s daughter, Bee Shaffer, and others at Café Clover, where talk of youth anxiety dovetailed with discussion of the family-separation crisis currently dominating the headlines. “It’s not just depression — what’s going on in the world can create so much anxiety,” Wintour said. “These days you have so much information coming at you, and so much of it is worrying. It’s an input of constant information, with no sense of what’s true and not true.”
Following dinner and Fiona’s speech, Kors brought the dessert, as it were: a performance by Tony-nominated actor Joshua Henry, currently starring in the Broadway revival of Carousel. “All of us have to find a way to deal with a life that is too hectic, too plugged in, a world that’s upside-down and dispensing constant information,” Kors said. “For my husband and I, we escape to the theater, a place where the phone has to be turned off, and we can be transported to another world.”
Disconnecting is key to alleviating anxiety among children and adults alike, noted Dr. Anne Marie Albano, a psychiatrist and the Youth Anxiety Center’s site director. “One of the things I tell families to do is to plan time without electronics,” she said. “Put dinner hour back into your schedule, or whenever it is that Mom, Dad and the kids can be together — create a space of an hour and a half each night without electronics. Play Monopoly or Twister or just talk to each other. And it’s got to be without the phone. That social support, being connected face to face and doing activities together, that’s going to help us all get through times of stress.”
As for Fiona? She’s attending a new college as a junior in the fall and credits the Youth Anxiety Center with putting her on a new path. “A year ago I had no idea what I was in for, but they made it possible for me to push myself out of my comfort zone,” she said. “And I always felt like they believed in me when I did.”