Goldie Hawn, seen here at the 24th Annual SAG Awards in January 2018, is working to expand social and emotional education for children.
CNN  — 

Goldie Hawn is in a hurry to help end America’s mental health crisis, but the fight is not new to her.

The Oscar-winning actor and advocate for children’s mental health first recognized the need to help kids learn how to process their emotions more than 20 years ago, as she was reeling in the aftermath of the events of 9/11 and saw distress among children.

“I was crying into the American flag – that I was knitting, by the way – (and) trying to figure out what I could do,” Hawn recalled to CNN in a phone conversation on Tuesday.

In 2003, her vision came to fruition with the launch of MindUP, a program that offers kids tools to regulate emotions, build resilience and understand how trauma impacts the brain. The science-based social-emotional curriculum has since been taught to 7 million children in 48 countries, according to the organization.

Hawn was recently selected as one of USA Today’s Women of the Year for her efforts with MindUP. She sees nothing but important work ahead, particularly in the aftermath of yet another tragedy – the deadly shooting at an elementary school in Nashville.

“Schools, we’re in so much trouble politically and in every way. Our teachers are leaving the force. They’re exhausted,” she said. “Some of them are suffering from their own areas of mental disturbances because they’re just overworked. All this feeling of hopelessness is all wrapped up into so many different areas right now.”

She added: “We’re sort of in, like, the perfect storm.”

Twenty years into her efforts, Hawn said there remain problems “that we don’t know how to solve.”

She pointed to a statistic from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s bisannual Youth Risk Behavior Survey that found that 57% of teen girls described themselves as feeling persistently sad or hopeless.

“It’s so disturbing to my mind and my heart,” Hawn said. “We, as a nation – maybe you do governor by governor, maybe you do school superintendent by school superintendent – but we have to gather together to find solutions for this problem.”

In a time when schools and learning have become politicized and polarizing, Hawn, indisputably warm, energetic and no-nonsense, may be the right ambassador to bridge the divide.

“Prevention and these kind of programs should not be politicized. They have been proven through research time and time again,” Hawn said. “I started this program because I thought children needed to be happier. What I didn’t realize is that happier wasn’t a problem. The way to happiness is by creating stability, creating hope.”

Hawn believes teaching children to develop grit, optimism and empathy – both at home and at school – are key to improving our culture.

“Let’s stick with it and stop politicizing left, right and center because you think it is a bad thing for your child, or you think that a parent can do it, or you think that that’s not what school is for,” she said. “School is for our children, to build them strong and healthy and good learners and focused attention and kind and empathetic. Because a country, a society, a family, a community doesn’t run without empathy.”

Even with all the challenges to building a system to support strong, mentally healthy children, Hawn said she still feels confident it can be a reality.

“What brings me hope is our ability to band together, for more schools to come on board, for more children to feel happier, for more children to sleep all night long and not wake up in nightmares, to go to bed with grace, to close their eyes fearlessly,” Hawn said. “These are the things I am hopeful for. And as long as I am on the planet, then I know I’m doing the best I can do.”