Anxiety presentation draws huge crowd

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Hunter Community Room at the Manchester Community Library went beyond capacity as residents spilled out through the back barn door to watch the film "Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety" recently.

The film, sponsored by United Counseling Service, discusses anxiety, the causes and the symptoms and offers advice on how to better understand and manage the disorder.

It is expected to reach more than 3 million people in 25,000 schools, community centers and theaters around the world.

Through a series of interviews with kids, teens, parents, experts, and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, the documentary tries to help break the stigma of anxiety.

At the end of the evening, a panelist of three mental health professionals and a local student discussed the film and answered questions from the audience.

According to the World Health Organization, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health challenge in the U.S., with the median age of onset being 7 years old.

However, many of the teens in the documentary said they can remember feeling anxious by as early as 3 or 4 years old.

"Worrying about college in third, fourth, fifth grade," one of the experts said referring to some of the children she treats. "Where did they get this?"

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According to an expert in the film, anxiety is a normal emotion and we all have triggers. However, clinical anxiety is different in that it can prevent people from doing what they want or need to do.

Teenagers demonstrated this point by describing how they began avoiding activities that they once enjoyed but over time, these activities started making them anxious so they stopped participating.

The symptoms of a panic attack — defined as a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause — were explained by the interviewees.

Some described their body as "shutting down" or "freezing up." Others said their heart starts racing, they sweat, shake and start crying.

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"I just have to get out of the situation," one girl said.

"During a panic attack your brain is telling you what is going on around you is going to hurt you," explained an anxiety expert. "You are unable to think past the moment."

At one point in the film, an interview with a young boy suffering from anxiety was interrupted by a surprise visit from his idol, Michael Phelps. The audience chuckled as the boy's mouth fell open, his eyes widened and he went silent for several seconds.

Phelps, a mental health advocate, shared his struggles with depression, being bullied at school and not liking who he was.

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"I would almost ignore it," Phelps said referring to his depression. "I would shove it even farther down."

He told the young boy that once he started opening up about his feelings, he started to feel better.

After the screening, panelists Megan Brooks, director of mental health services at Burr and Burton Academy; Megan Biela, family outreach clinician at United Counseling Services; Mary Mendez, a junior at BBA; and Katie Baroody, outpatient counselor, answered questions from the audience.

The panel facilitator was Bob Wubbenhorst, UCS Clinical Supervisor of Youth and Family Services for Bennington County.

The majority of the audience wanted to know how to get help for children living with anxiety and what techniques can help them manage their anxiety.

Talk therapy, exposure therapy and cognitive-based therapy were all discussed and noted as viable treatment options from the clinicians.

"Let them know you'll always support and love them," Mendez said.

For more information about anxiety or to find help for yourself or a loved one, you can contact UCS at www.ucsvt.org or call 802-442-5491. Their 24-hour hotline for youth-related crisis is 802-442-1700 or 1-800-360-6621.


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