Anyone who thinks raising children is easy hasn’t raised children. “I would confide in my girlfriends,” Vera Wang says of her most challenging moments as the mother of two daughters, now young adults. “I realized that there was no place to go to understand what was happening.”
The designer notes a “tsunami” of stimuli swirling around young people today, from family dynamics to “what’s going on culturally — the hookups, the Tinder thing,” as well as the obsessive pressure to hyper-achieve in school, at sports and in countless other pursuits. Wang came to view anxiety as an almost standard component of young people’s lives, “a pandemic.”
Simultaneously, a few years ago, she was in search of a philanthropic opportunity. She’d known noted psychiatrist David Shaffer for years. At the suggestion of Shaffer’s ex-wife, Anna Wintour, the two got together to discuss the lack of resources addressing anxiety among the young. One thing led to another, and the New York-Presbyterian Youth Anxiety Center was established in collaboration with Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia College of Physicians and
Surgeons. The center focuses on anxiety disorders in people aged 16 to 28, specifically as they transition into adulthood, with a three-fold approach to addressing the problem: treatment, research and education.
“We treat the anxiety,” says John Walkup, co-program director. “We also create programs to help these kids learn how to live again, how to cope and make up for the difficulties that they’ve accumulated since childhood.”
“We’re finding ways to help kids deal with it earlier on,” Wang notes, “to give them the tools to avoid what could become extreme behavior.”