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Ken Burns Presents “Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness”

This two-part film by Erik Ewers and Christopher Loren Ewers demystifies and destigmatizes youth mental health challenges through first-person storytelling

  • Christina Zeiders
Billie struggled against bullying and stigma to discover her own authentic expression.

Christopher Loren Ewers

Billie struggled against bullying and stigma to discover her own authentic expression.

Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness features first-person accounts from more than 20 young people, ranging in age from 11 to 27 years old, who live with mental health conditions, as well as parents, teachers, friends, health care providers in their lives, and independent mental health experts.

Watch the premiere of Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness on the PBS Video app or WITF TV Monday, June 27 and Tuesday, June 28 at 9pm. You can also stream it for free for 4 weeks after its premiere through the PBS Video app and video.witf.org.

The two-part, four-hour film provides a window into the daily life with mental health challenges – from seemingly insurmountable obstacles to stories of hope and resilience. As these young people share their stories, the film confronts the issue of stigma, discrimination, awareness, and silence and helps shift the public perception of mental health issues today.

“We interviewed a diverse group of courageous young people from across the country with a range of diagnoses who spoke openly with us, and shared intimate, and often painful, details of their mental health journeys,” said directors and co-producers Erik Ewers and Christopher Loren Ewers. “We hope that by bringing these experiences to a broadcast and online audience, our film will help shed light on how commonplace — how truly universal — mental health challenges are, and encourage other young people who are struggling to seek help. As the pandemic has made clear, caring for the mental health of kids, teenagers, and young adults is more vital than ever.”

Christopher Loren Ewers

Alexis is a college student from the Chippewa tribe in North Dakota.

The film shares the stories of a teenager who surrendered to addiction at age 15, a young Native American woman who feels so isolated she contemplates suicide, a transgender teen who experiences periods of joylessness and substance abuse, a high school freshman whose childhood hallucinations intensified after a series of assaults, and a 14-year-old boy who is plagued by intrusive thoughts and withdraws into his own world.

“We hope that this film will save lives. As a society, we continue to test the resiliency of youth without truly understanding how the stresses of today, including this unprecedented pandemic, are impacting them,” said executive producer Ken Burns. “Erik and Christopher and their team set out to listen and learn from America’s young people, documenting their experiences and allowing them to share how they are identifying new ways to address mental health challenges. It is a remarkable journey that captures the unique voices of these young people as they navigate an extraordinarily difficult era in our country’s history.”

Christopher Loren Ewers

With the support of his therapist and parents, Maclayn has learned to embrace his identity.

Watch the two-part premiere of Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness on WITF TV or through the PBS Video app Monday, June 27 and Tuesday, June 28 at 9pm. You can also watch it on-demand, for free for 4 weeks after its premiere through the PBS Video app and online.


Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness is a central part of Well Beings, the multi-year, multiplatform health campaign including other feature-length documentaries, short-form original digital content, user-generated storytelling, a digital and social media campaign, community events, and educational curriculum created by WETA with support from a broad coalition of national and local partners.

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