Anxiety Epidemic Envelopes San Francisco Girls
For the past three years, Dr. Andrea Zorbas has worked at the San Francisco Stress and Anxiety Center located South-of-Market, providing psychological counseling for adults. According to Zorbas, her clients, who often come with “career-related” worries, “all have an undergraduate degree, and most have a postgraduate degree,” and largely work in the tech industry.
Before moving to private practice, however, Zorbas spent a decade treating adolescents from low-income neighborhoods around the Bay Area, including two years at the KIPP Bayview Academy, a charter school for grades five through eight with a 48 percent African-American student population. She simultaneously managed a caseload of Bayview teenagers on probation for Urban Services YMCA. Among her patients, she recalled “high anxiety, high levels of depression and hopelessness,” and, frequently, post-traumatic stress disorder, owing to “the continual community violence that was happening, whether that was families being robbed or gun violence.” She found girls especially vulnerable, searching for “safety and security” that was sometimes impossible to find.
Zorbas’s patient population faced “all the standard challenges of low-income families,” trials that were amplified as San Francisco’s cost of living steadily increased. “Often families in the Bayview have been there for generations; people often know each other. And now the Bayview is starting to be gentrified, so families are then starting to get kicked out,” she said. “The disparity in the City is so extreme. Here we have these new tech guys moving into the Bayview, like 24-year-olds making hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then you have generations of families there just scraping by, and it’s this really odd dichotomy. My kids were already facing a lot of different levels of oppression,” but the presence of these newcomers “threw it in their face a little bit.”
As the neighborhood changed, a new type of anxiety emerged among Zorbas’s teenagers, revolving around a fear of gentrification and displacement. “When you grow up in an unsafe environment, you become hypervigilant about what’s going on in the community, so when you see a dilapidated house next door getting sold for a couple million dollars, you’re thinking, ‘OK, when is my landlord going to kick us out so they can do the exact same thing?’” she posited. “You’re just on edge. Are you going to be able to stay in San Francisco? Are you going to be homeless? That was absolutely on their minds. They get anxious about it because their parents are anxious about it.”…
For some San Francisco kids, global problems have a less abstract impact on their lives, according to Dr. Marina Tolou-Shams, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who leads the Division of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Psychiatry at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. “Our population at SF General is a MediCal population, and it is predominantly communities of color, primarily Latino, Spanish-speaking,” she said. “I think what we’re seeing here is a very heightened sense of anxiety, particularly as it relates to immigration issues and the social and political climate of our country right now, and families being torn apart. So, for these young girls who are actually threatened with the loss of a primary caregiver in the home, this is really triggering even more anxiety and difficulty attending school because of fear of separation or because of fear that someone’s not going to be there when you go home.”
Tolou-Shams spoke of “the fear of just being Latino in this day and age” and observed that “it’s something that prior to recently we did not hear Latina girls talking about as much.”