Real talk about mental illness: 8 docs to watch

One of five Canadians will be diagnosed with mental illness. Here are some of their stories.

One of five Canadians will be diagnosed with mental illness. Here are some of their stories.

man with head in hands against a blue brick background (iStock)

The first week of May marks the Canadian Mental Health Association's Mental Health Week. One in five Canadians will be diagnosed with a mental illness during their lifetime and this is a great time to highlight and discuss some of the issues. 

Here are eight documentaries that delve into the reality of mental illness — now streaming on CBC Gem.

Lost on Arrival: Me, the Mounties & PTSD 

After years as a CBC News reporter, heading into natural disasters, wars and wreckage to get the story, something shook loose in Curt Petrovich. When he came home after reporting on the devastating 2013 typhoon in the Philippines, he was a different person — a stranger in his own home.  

As Petrovich copes with his debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder, he also investigates the role that PTSD played in the testimony of the Mounties charged in the death of Robert Dziekanski in October 2007 at the Vancouver airport.


When filmmaker Madison Thomas is going through a rough time, she feels the sudden urge to clean, and realizes that she's more like her mom than she ever thought. Her mother survived a traumatic childhood at residential school and cleaning offers moments of control that she didn't have as a child. They say trauma is passed from one generation to the next and perhaps scrubbing and wiping and rinsing is one way to mend the cycles of pain in their family.

Breaking Loneliness

Being lonely in a world of people has sometimes been labelled an epidemic in modern society. "I think it's really important people are not embarrassed to admit they are lonely. I think there's a taboo we don't want to say we're lonely," says filmmaker Brandy Yanchyk. 

According to Yanchyk, loneliness is a social epidemic impacting all age groups around the world, a problem that is now exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. She talks to real people who are finding ways to escape loneliness and social isolation by creating their own communities. 

Being Greene

The Greenes are a fun-loving family of performers with a secret: they all suffer from mental illnesses. Dave, the dad, is a hoarder. Roxie, the mom, has a long history with unipolar depressive disorder. Kane, the brother, has anxiety and suicidal thoughts and Quinn, the other brother, takes care of them all. Through the documentary, the family decides to break the silence, hoping to spark a national conversation about mental illness.

Hold Your Fire

People in mental health crises account for 40% of civilian shooting deaths by police. Police are confronted with people with mental health issues on the job often, but aren't adequately trained on how to deal with them. Three families who lost their sons in police shootings reveal how their tragedies might have been avoided.

In the search for solutions, researchers study what happens in the moments before a shooting, what approach other countries around the world are taking, and how new training for cops may help.

Not Criminally Responsible: Wedding Secrets

In 1999, Sean Clifton stabbed a complete stranger, Julie Bouvier, six times in a crowded shopping mall. At the time, he was in a psychotic state. The 2013 documentary Not Criminally Responsible follows him as he applies for absolute discharge. In the follow-up documentary, Wedding Secrets, three years later, both Clifton and Bouvier are invited to attend the same wedding. He wants to apologize in person and she, after having advocated for him for 17 years, is nervous about meeting her attacker face to face for the first time.

The award-winning documentarian behind the camera, John Kastner, puts a real face to the NCR designation and shows how a community, and even the victims' family, have the power to forgive.

Fourth Period Burnout

Three teens talk about how they're overwhelmed by high expectations and a pressure to succeed. School, homework, extra-curricular and part-time work are sending our youth towards burnout and looking for ways to manage their stress. 

Digging in the Dirt

Suicide is the number one killer of men under 49. Digging In The Dirt explores the mental health crisis affecting Albertan oil and gas workers, their families and communities. Co-director Omar Mouallem discovered that these jobs demanded long hours, camp-culture isolation, and propagated a deep-rooted emphasis on toxic masculinity. "It's work hard, play harder," he says, and in an industry so filled with machismo, many are hesitant to ask for help. The film features the stories of several men who, weighed down by depression, anxiety and drugs, felt there was no other solution than to take their lives. 


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