Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps opens up about personal struggle with anxiety

Documentary helps Metro Detroit students open up about anxiety

By Sandra Ali - Anchor/Reporter, Derick Hutchinson

BIRMINGHAM, Mich. - Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian in history, but he isn't immune to deeply personal struggles with anxiety.

"Even Olympians, even people that appear to have it all, also suffer from anxiety," Phelps said.

Phelps shared his story in a new documentary that hit home for Metro Detroit students fighting their own battles.

"At times, it can be completely debilitating," Phelps said.

The documentary, "Angst," is just under an hour long, but it covers a lot of ground. It's helping students start talking about a topic that can sometimes be considered taboo.

"Even with everything that had happened at that point, I just didn't like who I was," Phelps said.

A free screening of the documentary packed the house at Seaholm High School.

A Metro Detroit fifth grader named Charlie is also in the film, opening up about his own feelings of anxiety. He said he started to recognize the signs when he was 4 years old.

"When I first had it, I didn't really know what it was," Charlie said. "It was just sort of weird having it, and I didn't know what anxiety was at that point."

Charlie isn't alone. The nonprofit group "Indie-Flix" released the documentary to try to get people to talk about their experiences.

"Anxiety is the most common psychological complaint in the United States, with the onset usually showing up at about 7 years old, which is pretty young," executive producer Karen Gornic said.

In the film, there are candid interviews with children talking about their anxiety and its impact on their everyday lives.

"We set out to make a film that was going to raise awareness around anxiety and help people understand, 'What are the causes and what can we do about it?'" Gornic said. "And to break the stigma of anxiety and mental illness, because when we break that stigma, we start talking about it just like Michael Phelps says in the film. It's when he started talking about it, it started getting better."

"I have to admit that when I started going through this with my son, I really didn't open up that much," Gornic told the crowd at Seaholm High School. "I tend to close in. So I guess in making this film, I just really thought it'd be important for people to be able to connect."

Eva Dodds helped bring the film to Metro Detroit, along with Gretchen Marsh, a therapist who works with children and families.

"When I was introduced to 'Angst,' the first thing I thought was, 'Perfect. This is the tonic, or the bomb, our community needs,' because every student and every parent that comes through the door to this office has some form of anxiety going on," Dodds said.

What can you do to counter the effects of anxiety?

"One thing that's really important is to talk to your child about their day," Marsh said. "That sometimes is not drilling them, 'Who did you sit with? Did you do this? Did you do that?' But listening to them, like, how they felt during their day. Sometimes, kids just want to talk. They don't want to problem-solve. Sometimes they just want to feel validated by their parent."

"We hope that by Michael Phelps' story, and the teens that so bravely shared their stories in the film, we hope they set an example for others in our community that by opening up, they can find help," Gornic said.

If you're interested in the documentary, it's being shown at 7 p.m. Thursday at Derby Middle School in Birmingham.

Thursday on Local 4 News at 5, experts said they're seeing a surprising new trend. They have a warning for women about social media.

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