Liam sees Instagram pictures of classmates at a party and wonders why he wasn’t invited. Jasmin is overwhelmed by trying to get good grades. Noah says he’s always anxious. And Adam feels “like an ant in the anthill.”
The teens are featured in the documentary “Angst,” an IndieFlix film released in 2017. I came across it by accident Monday while hunting for school-supply lists on local school districts’ websites. Instead, I found a better back-to-school subject.
“Angst” is available for viewing, just through Sept. 7, on the Everett Public Schools website.
My advice? Watch it, whether you have school-age children or not.
Kids and teens in the film share their paralyzing fears about AP tests, social media, their looks, presentations in class and other situations. It includes a surprising interview with the most decorated Olympian ever, swimming phenomenon Michael Phelps.
In the 56-minute film, the winner of 28 Olympic medals tells a young boy, also a swimmer, about how bullying in middle school and high school fueled his anxiety and what became “massive spells of depression.”
Phelps said there were stretches of his life, in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2014, that he “didn’t want to be alive anymore.”
“Once I opened up about that, life was a lot easier,” he said in the film. “I understood it’s OK to not be OK.”
Dr. Laura Kastner, a clinical psychologist who has taught in the University of Washington School of Medicine’s psychiatry and behavioral sciences department, is among experts featured in “Angst.” The author of “Getting to Calm” parenting books, Kastner said in the film that she’s heard very young children — kids small enough to worry about monsters under the bed — voice real fears about getting into college.
“There’s a lot of modern-day pressure. It’s really tough growing up,” said Sally Lancaster, an Everett School District assistant superintendent. “On social media, they struggle to get noticed. Everybody wants a place to connect and feel like they’re seen. There’s been a huge increase in anxiety in kids.”
A former teacher who spent five years as principal of Everett High School, Lancaster said the film was brought to the district’s attention by Joyce Stewart. Recently retired as the Everett district’s deputy superintendent, Stewart showed “Angst” at a meeting of principals and teachers.
“They had strong feelings that everybody should watch this — they’re right,” Lancaster said. And in April, a PTA group sponsored a free showing of “Angst” at Jackson High School. “There were a lot of positive comments from families,” she added.
Lancaster said the district’s cost for making the film available online for one month is $7,500.
The kids interviewed for “Angst” shared fears of taking high-stakes tests and being judged by peers. One subject not raised in the film has also become a terrifying possibility. From Columbine to Marysville Pilchuck and Marjory Stoneman Douglas high schools, mass shootings have happened here and across this country.
Last week, a New York Times article about bulletproof backpacks included the story of 19-year-old University of Connecticut student J.T. Lewis, who wears one on campus. His little brother, Jesse, was killed in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Suicide is a more common threat. Wendy Burchill, an injury prevention specialist with the Snohomish Health District, told The Herald that as of March there had been six youth suicides, all among boys, in the 2018-19 academic year. The previous year, there were 11 youth suicides countywide.
“Angst” covers not only kids’ candid accounts of suffering, but ways to ease fears that can keep them from going to school at all. Mental health experts suggest tactics — taking a “stress breath,” writing in a journal, or briefly focusing eyes on something else during a test — to lessen anxious moments.
In one scene, therapist Jenny Howe, who has worked in Utah treating adolescent anxiety, accompanies a teen boy to a clothing store. During her “exposure therapy” exercise, Howe asks him to try something on and ask a clerk how it looks. In doing something he feared, the boy felt a bit more confident.
“Angst” was posted on the district’s website Friday. Lancaster said one powerful comment came from a teacher who watched it with administrators. The teacher, she said, recounted how she’d sometimes been too hard on a student. “She realized she should have had more empathy,” Lancaster said.
“We would like as many families to see this as possible,” she added.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 56-minute documentary film “Angst” is available for viewing, though Sept. 7, on the Everett Public Schools website: www.everettsd.org/Page/29969
Learn more at: angstmovie.com