Ken Burns film explores youth mental health

Awareness of mental health across all spectrums of the population has been growing after years living in the COVID pandemic. But there are particular concerns about the youngest generations. Those topics are explored in Ken Burns' film, "Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness," which airs Monday night on PBS. Student Reporting Labs' Matt Suescun and Faiza Ashar spoke to Burns to learn more.

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  • Nick Schifrin:

    Finally tonight: COVID took a psychological toll on all populations. Now doctors and clinicians have become concerned about the youngest victims.

    Later tonight, Ken Burns' film "Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness," Premieres on PBS.

    The "NewsHour"'s Student Reporting Labs podcasts hosts, Matt Suescun and Faiza Ashar, spoke to Burns about a film he hopes can save lives.

  • Matt Suescun:

    Hi, Ken. Thank you so much for talking with us today.

  • Ken Burns, Documentary Filmmaker:

    Thank you so much for having me.

  • Matt Suescun:

    You are the executive producer for a film coming out this June called "Hiding in Plain Sight" about youth mental health.

  • Makalynn, Student:

    I could not make sense of the emotions. Why am I acting this way?

  • Gabe, Student:

    When I am mad on the inside, I am mad on the outside.

  • Person:

    When feelings interfere with their everyday ability to live, that is a challenge.

  • Ken Burns:

    I'm really proud of the film. I think it will save lives.

    It is so critically important because there is an epidemic, not just among young people, but across the board, as a result of the pandemic and just the challenges of a modern life.

    Also, my own history was instrumental in doing it. My mother got sick with cancer when I was 2 or 3 years old. There was never a moment when I was aware, a conscious being, when there wasn't this looming shadow over my family. And three months from my 12th birthday, when I was 11, she passed away.

    Almost all of that time was filled with stomach aches and anxiety on my part, inability to go on field trips, all of that stuff. And after she died, I saw my father cry for the first time at a movie. He hadn't cried when she was sick, hadn't cried when she died, hadn't cried at her funeral.

    And so I understood that, in some ways, life had dealt him a complicated, and that filmmaking was — for him, provided an emotional safe harbor where he could express himself. And I kind of vowed at that moment at 12 that I would become a filmmaker. That meant a famous Hollywood — like Alfred Hitchcock.

  • Faiza Ashar:

    I know that a lot of people recently and a lot of young people recently have lost their family members to COVID, other illnesses, accidents, et cetera.

    So do you have a message for young people who are grieving and trying to process the death of someone close to them?

  • Ken Burns:

    Everybody's grief is so unique to their own. There's no one size fits all.

    I have got four daughters, and each one of them I have been able to give them what I call the three things. One is, this won't last. Sometimes, mental illness does last and is there for a lifetime. But, in our situational distress, sometimes, reminding people that everything is always changing all the time, that this won't last.

    To get help from others, which is often hard to do. But the hardest thing of all is the third one, to be kind to yourself. And we have to be compassionate towards everyone and we also have to bring some of that or reserve some of that compassion for ourselves, because we will need it.

  • Faiza Ashar:

    Thank you so much for speaking with us. Have a great day.

  • Matt Suescun:

    Thank you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Kindness and compassion, not only for other people, but also for ourselves.

    "Hiding in Plain Sight" premieres at 9:00 p.m. Eastern tonight on PBS. Check your local station listings.

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