Ken Burns Says New Movie About Teenage Mental Illness ‘Will Save Lives’


PORTSMOUTH – Anna Conheeny, 18, traces the onset of her mental health struggles to when she was in third grade and her parents divorced.

“It all started going south really fast,” Conheeny told the Journal. “I took people’s problems, put them on me as my own burden and blamed myself for everything. So I carried that around and wouldn’t talk about it. I held it back.”

Eventually, Conheeny began seeing a therapist.

“It helped a lot, and I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and prescribed medication,” she said.

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The youngster became involved with a group of young people who discussed mental health issues together, and it was through this group in 2019 that she came to the attention of filmmakers Erik Ewers and Christopher Loren Ewers. They were directing and co-producing a four-hour documentary, “Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness,” which was written by acclaimed writer and director David Blistin.

The executive producer?

Ken Burns, the eminent American documentary filmmaker.

So the cameras rolled on Conheeny and 19 other young people from across America.

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Anna Conheeny during the filming of

“They filmed me at my house,” said Conheeny, a recent Portsmouth High School graduate. “That was so cool! »

At 9 p.m. on July 11, Rhode Island PBS will air the first two hours of the film. The second half will air at 9 p.m. on July 18. Other PBS stations have already aired the documentary.

“At the end, I cried”

Conheeny appeared with Burns recently on NBC’s “Today.”

“It’s a movie that’s going to save lives,” Burns said. “I’m an executive producer, and I said ‘please go ahead [make it]; it’s such an important topic. And when I saw it, at the end, I cried. The bravery of people like Anna who are willing to come out and talk.”

Asked by “Today” co-host Savannah Guthrie if she was nervous, excited or scared about appearing in the film, Conheeny said she felt all of those emotions. But she went on because “if it could help one person” and help remove the stigma, it would be worth it.

Conheeny’s reaction to watching the movie?

“It was amazing,” she said. “Astounding.”

Burns said the filmmakers “took us and these 20 kids into this hellhole, but then took us out. Showed us where you can get help. Showed us, especially in Anna’s case, that there is safety in numbers is actually going to just grab things and change the dynamic.”

And it showed the audience, he said, the importance of listening.

‘Funny story, actually’

Speaking to the Journal, Conheeny thanked his mother, Jonna Hole, and his family and his mother’s family for their support and understanding throughout his journey. It’s a journey that will continue when she heads off to college this fall at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she plans to study animal science in preparation for attending veterinary school.

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Anna Conheeny

“Funny story, actually,” Conheeny said. “I have two cats, and during all these tough times, they were part of the reason why I didn’t completely fall apart in life and did something I never should have done, like try to hurt me. They were the reason, plus my mom. My mom and my cats were the reason I never did anything.

She added, “I’m in such a good place now. Nothing is holding me back. I’m excited to start the next chapter.”

His advice to others struggling with mental health issues?

“Never give up,” Conheeny said. “You are never alone in this fight. You always have someone to talk to, be it a friend, guardian or teacher etc. But overall please don’t give up. never.”

Mental health resources for children, youth and their families

Mindful Teen, or call 401-432-1119

Kids’ Link RI, or call 855-543-5465

Mindcast: Healthy Mind, Healthy Child Podcast,

Butler Hospital Adolescent Treatment Unit, or call Patient Assessment Services at 844-401-0111.

Anyone in immediate danger must call 911.


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