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Vermonter speaking in “Hiding in Plain Sight: The Mental Illness of Youth”

Samantha Fisher, originally from Brattleboro, starred in Hiding in Plain Sight: Juvenile Mental Illness, which is executive produced by Ken Burns.

Burlington Free Press

Samantha Fisher has dealt with mental health issues all her life.

“I think I always had strong feelings, all the time,” said Fischer, who as a child in Brattleboro would run around the house banging her head against walls because she couldn’t find words to express herself. “They didn’t go anywhere. I’ve been dealing with anger issues all the time.”

Fisher, now 23, said she still has mental health issues but is getting better. She also wants to help other young people who may have similar problems.

That is why she took part in Hiding in Plain Sight: The Mental Illness of Youth. Executive producer and acclaimed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns’ two-part film follows more than 20 mentally challenged young people across America.

Hiding in Plain Sight airs Monday, June 27 and Tuesday, June 28 on PBS.

“I hope this opens up the conversation about mental health and starts to lift the stigma around it,” Fischer said of the film. “I hope this helps people understand their worth, no matter what they’re going through, and that they deserve kindness and compassion.”

Changing her mindset

Fisher dealt with her anger before her parents’ divorce, but said it only added to her anger. Fisher said she was sexually assaulted in 9th grade and had to sit in a high school classroom across from her attacker.

“My anger stopped showing up as anger and started showing up as, ‘We can never leave the house, we can never trust anyone,'” Fischer said. She stopped going to school and ended up in the mental hospital Brattleboro Retreat.

According to her, Fisher planned an attempt on her life in early 2018, but her mother found out about it and stopped her. Fisher spent several months in the Brattleboro Retreat outpatient program known as The Birches and saw a therapist twice a week.

“I would say that my mental health has not changed. The only thing that has strangely changed is my attitude towards it,” Fisher said. “I came to treat myself with more kindness and compassion.”

Before she got the help she needed, she had a hard time finding someone to talk to about her mental health issues. One of the people she reached out to was Ricky Davidson, who, when Fisher was a teenager, worked at the Brattleboro Boys and Girls Club, where she often hung out. Davidson knew one of the writers on Hiding in Plain Sight and asked Fisher if she would share her story for the project.

“If Ricky tells me to come, I’ll show up, I’ll be there,” Fischer said. “I’ve never been shy about talking about my mental health.”

The film coincides with the consequences of COVID-19

Davidson, 54, now works as a student aid counselor at Brattleboro Union High School. According to him, in his youth he struggled with depression, anxiety and substance abuse. He entered the field of counseling because he wanted to be an adult, which he felt was not there in his youth.

Like Fisher, Davidson takes part in Hiding in Plain Sight. He hopes audiences will get a message from the film about the importance of communication. He wants “there is no stigma associated with mental health needs, so that young people feel they have someone to talk to,” he said, “and someone to talk to who responds in a helpful and supportive way.”

Most of Hiding in Plain Sight was filmed before the lockdown that began with the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. Mental health experts say the effects of the pandemic are exacerbating the problems many young people already face.

“I think it’s almost cosmic time,” Fischer said of Hiding in Plain Sight, as discussion of these new issues intensifies.

The film really touches on the impact of COVID on youth mental health, Davidson said. He said some young people whose formative years were spent trying to make connections on a computer screen are having trouble connecting in a real classroom or hallway where they can’t just turn off the camera to avoid an embarrassing situation. He said he saw those frustrations manifest as more arguments, threats and physical fights.

“Even though we had issues that needed to be addressed and we had youth issues, the situation has worsened due to COVID and we need to understand that,” Davidson said.

“Vermont Girl at Heart”

Davidson said “Hiding in Plain Sight” is important because young people make themselves vulnerable by telling their painful stories, and it also provides an opportunity to hear those stories. According to Davidson, this allows adults to not only hear but also listen to what the young people in the film are saying.

“I feel like this is a really important film that people should see and understand,” he said.

Fisher continues to address mental health issues. She cannot live alone because she will most likely forget to eat. “I like being alone, not alone,” Fischer said.

She moved to Amarillo, Texas to live with her sister, although it pains her to leave her home state. “I’m a Vermont girl at heart and I’ll die a Vermont girl at heart,” Fisher said.

While she’s still finding her way, Fisher has a positive story to tell about her path to mental health. She works full-time as an assistant teacher for toddlers at a Montessori school. She is studying child psychology online at Southern New Hampshire University because she wants to become a counselor for children.

“I never thought I could do it, but I already have some experience,” Fisher said. “I can put my little anxieties aside if it helps the kids unravel their thoughts.”

Contact Brent Hallenbeck at [email protected] Follow Brent on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BrentHallenbeck

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