Adolescent mental illness is a serious concern in the United States and the challenges experienced by young people have only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many children suffered—and still suffer—from disruptions in education, socialization, and healthcare access. And instances of abuse among children and teenagers increased during the pandemic. Moreover, adolescents of marginalized and disadvantaged populations were disproportionately impacted resulting in greater occurrences of mental health and suicide among these individuals.
According to the Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey (ABES), “more than one in three school students experienced poor mental health during the pandemic and nearly half of the students felt persistently sad and hopeless.”
In response to these devastating statistics, AVDF supported the student-led mental health podcast On Our Minds with a $100,000 grant in 2022. The Edward R. Murrow award-winning podcast is a production of the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs (SRL) and is developed in partnership with WETA’s Well Beings mental health campaign.
“Public media plays a significant role when it comes to educating youth and their families about the mental health crisis and the services available to those who need help. The show On Our Minds brings awareness to this crucial issue in a unique and relatable format by incorporating professional expertise and the genuine perspectives of young people. The audience receives a first-hand account of the mental health struggles teenagers face on a regular basis such as depression and anxiety,” said John Churchill, AVDF Director of Programs.
AVDF funds supported season 2 of On Our Minds, building on the successful season 1. Teen students host the podcast, pitch the stories, host interviews and record the segments. The show collects stories from teenagers across the country to spotlight mental health issues through interviews with experts and high schoolers. Each episode features a different well-being topic such as how to start the conversation about mental health, eating disorders, and peer pressure.
One On Our Minds season 2 episode features an interview with award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns about the AVDF-funded documentary Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness. The film documents the mental health journey of 20 young Americans and the people in their life. The groundbreaking documentary puts a spotlight on the mental health crisis by giving viewers an authentic window into the obstacles young people with mental health disorders experience.
Like the On Our Minds podcast, the four-hour Hiding in Plain Sight film is part of WETA’s Well Beings campaign. The partnership between WETA and Burns resulted in an emotional documentary that helps viewers understand that mental illness is a serious and complex condition. The film also reveals that mental health challenges are common occurrences, especially among youth, that can, left untreated, lead to many damaging outcomes including death.
The film Hiding in Plain Sight has sparked important conversations about mental well-being across the country. The documentary has been featured in publications such as People Magazine, Forbes and The Washington Post. In June, First Lady Jill Biden hosted a film screening of the documentary at the White House. Members of the film’s creative team and several of the youth featured in the documentary were present at the screening. In addition, many organizations and public broadcast stations have hosted community screenings and panel discussions about Hiding in Plain Sight. The podcast, film, and screenings show that families can recognize the signs of mental health challenges, be empowered to ask for help, and facilitate positive change.