Saskatchewan-made documentary puts anxiety and depression in the spotlight

Nurses in Saskatchewan are taking viewers to the frontlines of healthcare in a new series of documentaries. The latest instalment focuses on youth mental health.

Film by Saskatchewan Union of Nurses covers youth experience

Barrett Kuntz has been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. He is one of the main figures in a recent documentary on mental health produced by the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN). (Youtube/On the frontline of Youth Mental Health)

Nurses in Saskatchewan are taking viewers to the front lines of healthcare. 

A new series of documentaries produced by the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) has already covered the provincial HIV crisis and access to health care in rural and remote areas. The latest instalment, set for release on Wednesday, focuses on youth mental health.

Regina resident Barrett Kuntz, who first experienced anxiety at 14, is a central figure in the film.

It was paralyzing.- Barrett  Kuntz , who began experiencing anxiety at age 14

According to SUN, 50 per cent of mental illness manifests before patients reach 14 and suicide is now the second leading cause of death for Canadian youth, behind only accidents.

"It was paralyzing," Kuntz said of his early episodes with anxiety and depression.

Kuntz said he experienced frequent panic attacks. His heart would start racing, he would get sweaty and would feel like he was transported out of the moment and into his own world.

At first, he didn't know what was going on, but eventually visited a doctor and received a diagnosis.

Since then, Kuntz said he's practised coping mechanisms and has joined a support group with other young people like himself. Now, he's a group leader and helps encourage other people to share their stories of mental illness.

That's part of what inspired him to be part of the documentary. While he said his life isn't "all rainbows" now, he said his low points have gone from bad weeks to bad days. For that, he considers himself a success story.

"Ten years ago, I wouldn't have been sitting here," Kuntz told CBC Radio's Morning Edition host Stefani Langenegger Monday. "I wouldn't have been enjoying life like I do.

"I just wanted to share out there that it's OK to talk about it."

Offering support

RN John Mitchell, who is also featured in the film, said more youth need to talk about what they are facing and reach out for help when they need it.  

Mitchell said he hopes the documentary will make people feel less isolated and stigmatized.

He said mental illness is much more common than most people realize. One in three people will experience it at some point in their lives.

"Anxiety and depression are just very intense feelings that we all have, but sometimes they get to the point where they affect our quality of life and can be actually debilitating," he said.

"When you're in the middle of it, you can't see much else. You're floating down the river and can't catch your breath."

Mitchell said support for people within the health care system has improved over the years.

He also wants to see family and friends encourage their loved ones in any way they can.

"Saying, 'I'm here to support you,' or if I'm not sure how, I'm going to find some services, some supports, some people, some information," Mitchell said. "I think because of stigma, a lot of times people might be hesitant to ask."  

The documentaries can be viewed on the SUN website.

- With files from CBC Radio's Morning Edition