Vermonter Samantha Fisher on sharing her mental health journey in new documentary
A new Ken Burns documentary on youth mental health will premiere tonight on PBS stations across the country, including right here in Vermont.
The film, Hiding in Plain Sight, is directed by brothers Erik Ewers and Christopher Loren Ewers. It explores today’s youth mental health crisis through first-person stories of young people.
It’s a two-part film, and is part of a national campaign from public media, called Well Beings, in an effort to demystify and destigmatize physical and mental health through storytelling.
The film features the stories of 20 young people, and two of them have ties to Vermont. This includes Samantha Fisher, who grew up in Brattleboro and opens up in the film about living with severe depression and anxiety.
Vermont Public’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with documentary participant Samantha Fisher. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mitch Wertlieb: This is such an intimate look at mental health challenges that are facing American youth — more than 20 young people sharing their personal experiences. Each participant made themselves really vulnerable by talking about these journeys. So I'd like to start by asking what was it like to take part in this documentary, sharing your own personal story? And did you have any hesitation about doing this?
Samantha Fisher: I didn't have any hesitation in taking part in the documentary. I've always been very open about my mental health and everything that I've dealt with. And everybody in my life is very aware of it. So I didn't have much difficulty there.
Did that help you? Because a lot of the people in the documentary talk about how hard it was to express what they were feeling. And to talk about it with other people. It sounds like maybe you were more open about it from the very beginning,
I would say so. My family was always very understanding of things, they would always let me talk to them about anything. I think the upbringing in Vermont really helped. People were pretty kind when it came to talking about any kind of mental health issues that you may have had. It always felt like I was OK to say whatever I needed to say. And those around me would help me deal with what I needed to deal with.
So it does sound like you had a good support system in Vermont. You were you were lucky in that sense. However, did that help with what you were experiencing inside, the thoughts that were in your head? Did it help with your depression at all?
It did give me a sense of comfort knowing that at any moment at the drop of a dime, I could get help, I could talk to somebody. But it didn't change the fact that I still felt what I felt and had to endure what I did endure. Because a lot of traumatic events led to the way I felt.
Are you OK, letting us know what some of those traumatic events were? Because that's something else that was mentioned in the documentary, that often depression, anxiety can stem from traumatic events.
It's a kind of a culmination of a lot of things. I was in several car accidents as a child. I was in and out of hospitals as a child because I had some medical issues. And then my father was accused of a very serious crime. He was later acquitted, but it kind of upended my entire life and I don't think I could ever trust him again because of it.
And then during my high school years, I was sexually assaulted by two different people separate times, and they happened to be close friends to me at the time. So that also just reinforced distrust in people. I became agoraphobic, so I wouldn't even leave my bedroom. I didn't go to school. I was terrified of everything all the time, and it just became a downward spiral.
How did you find a way out of that?
I think it's difficult to say "a way out," because I still deal with it now.
Thank you for correcting me on the out-of-it thing, because I think that's something that people who may not go through the same struggles often fail to understand — that it's a lifelong process. I'm guessing here, that this is something you're going to be going through. You're going through it now. And you'll always be going through it. There may be better times there may be degrees, let's say. Does that sound about right?
I would say that's pretty accurate. One of my favorite things that I learned that has helped me is: healing is not linear. I am going to have good days, I'm going to have bad days. That in no way affects my recovery. That in no way affects me getting better or my treatment. I've had to stop and think about what is you know, "normal" to feel. And if one person who, let's say doesn't have mental illness, but has one experience with those kinds of feelings, could imagine experiencing that every single day, it's like getting hit with wave after wave after wave of those feelings every day. Non-stop.
This film also talks about the delay that often exists with people seeking help for their mental health challenges. Why do you think there is such a delay for a lot of people? What are some of the contributing factors?
Lack of access, the health insurance setup in this country, the financial ability to drive miles and miles and hours away from your home? Once a week just to get therapy, you have to have the financial ability to obtain medication if it's prescribed. And I just think those things are really lacking in this country.
I think we got lucky, where I grew up in Vermont, because we did have kind of a few more mental health resources than other places. I've noticed. I don't know if that's because of the Brattleboro Retreat being in Brattleboro. There's a lot of therapists' offices there. There's mental health clinics.
"One of my favorite things that I learned that has helped me is: healing is not linear. I am going to have good days, I'm going to have bad days."Samantha Fisher
What about the responsibility that society in general have here, because it seems like so much of the burden is placed on those who are dealing with mental illnesses?
I think that's part of what this documentary is trying to start the conversation on. And I think society does need to be held responsible to a certain degree, they do need to look in the mirror. It shouldn't be such a stigmatized conversation. But just being able to let others know that there's no stigma around this conversation. And if you are having troubles, you can talk to somebody, or you can ask for help.
There's a moment in this film where you talk about what you want for your future, the way you want to live your life that's different from what you've experienced to this point. And I wonder why you feel ready to embrace the mundane, the ordinary, that maybe so many of us take for granted.
I just crave a little bit of calm and mundane and simple things, because I didn't have it growing up. Everything always felt like it was just teetering on the edge at all times growing up.
Have questions, comments, or concerns? Send us a message or tweet your thoughts to @mwertlieb.