Amy and Lisa sit down with two North Shore filmmakers, Ari Braun and Eden Grunsberg, to discuss their film "The Stigma." The documentary is a raw look into the struggles teens experience in sharing their mental illness with friends. What is so compelling about the documentary is that these filmmakers are themselves teens.
Amy and Lisa expand the conversation with Ari and Eden to their thoughts and feelings about their teen world out from behind the camera.
Agi Semrad, Founder and Executive Director of The Balance Project, which sponsored the production, also joins the conversation and explains the resources available through this nonprofit.
So put in your earbuds, take this 30 minutes for you and join our conversation because mental health matters.
Music credit: Tune 2 go / POND 5
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To find all of the resources CATCH provides to caregivers of young people struggling with their mental health, go to www.catchiscommunity.org.
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CATCH, Community Action Together for Children's Health, is a 501(c)3 that provides support and education for families around mental health topics. Original content and materials from CATCH and its collaborators are for informational purposes only. They are provided as a general resource and are not specific to any person or circumstance.
Amy O. (00:15):
We have a very exciting opportunity for this episode. Today we get to speak with documentary filmmakers who also happen to be middle school students in the North Shore of Chicago. Also with us is their sponsor, the founder of a unique mental health advocacy organization in the same area. Welcome, I'm Amy.
Dr. Lisa (00:35):
And I'm Lisa. And we're the hosts of Parenting the Mental Health Generation. It's difficult to parent a kid struggling with their mental health and it can be really lonely here. We lay it all out together and discuss the topics that concern us on our parenting journey.
Amy O. (00:53):
Today we are talking with eighth grade documentary movie producers, Ari Braun and Eden Grunsberg, as well as with Agi Semrad, Founder and Executive Director of The Balance Project that funded the documentary.
Dr. Lisa (01:08):
Ari and Eden's short film entitled Stigma powerfully illustrates the stigma of mental illness that still permeates our society today. We get to talk to them about what prompted them to create this film, what messages they want to share through their work and their vision for a de-stigmatized future for themselves and their peers.
Amy O. (01:31):
So put in your earbuds, take this 30 minutes for you and join our conversation with Eden, Ari and Agi.
Ari Braun (01:43):
Thank you so much for having us.
Eden Grunsberg (01:44):
Yeah, thank you. It's so great to be here.
Amy O. (01:47):
Well it's a pleasure. We're really excited to have all of you on. Thanks for for coming.
Eden Grunsberg (01:53):
Yeah, of course.
Amy O. (01:54):
Can we start our conversation out Eden and Ari with you guys just telling us a little bit about yourselves and about what your school environment is like for our audience?
Eden Grunsberg (02:07):
Well, both Ari and I are in eighth grade at Edgewood Middle School in Highland Park. And you know, I'm like, I've always been interested in writing. That's just always kind of been my thing. And so when I got together with Ari, I, both of us thought it would be such a great idea to make this documentary because I mean I was so interested in writing and he is a hundred percent a film maker and so we were just so excited about this.
Dr. Lisa (02:34):
And Ari, do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?
Ari Braun (02:37):
I also go to Edgewood Middle School. I'm in eighth grade. I've always been interested in filming and just like making movies. And when Eden came to me about the idea, you know, I thought I could execute a well and yeah, it turned out great. I think.
Dr. Lisa (02:52):
Well you guys chose a pretty powerful topic to start with here with the stigma around mental illness. We, Amy and I were lucky enough to have seen the documentary, but our listeners probably haven't yet. So can you summarize for our listeners what the film is about and why you chose to highlight the stigma of mental health in your work?
Eden Grunsberg (03:11):
I think the main message of our film is that you know, when, whether you're just speaking out about your own mental health, whether it's to like an audience or just to a friend, it brings people together and it makes a safe environment. And I think that we exemplified that a lot in our film. We used a character named Anna who was struggling a lot with her mental health and she represented someone that would possibly be in our grade, maybe in high school. And what she what she goes through in our film is kind of something that many teens go through all over the globe, everywhere. And it's not just teens, it's teens, adults and even younger children. And so basically Anna, we see how she struggles and she meets this girl who is a little bit more open about her mental health. She ends up talking to Anna the girl and she kind of has this realization moment where it's like, wow, other people go through this. It's not just me and I think our big message was just like talk, talk to people. Because that helps so much because you never know what someone else is going through. Someone could look like someone that is doing totally fine right now and you could think to yourself, oh they're probably doing totally fine and I'm doing horrible right now, but they could be going through something just like your situation.
Ari Braun (04:30):
Yeah. And I think that, you know, we kind of made it at the perfect time. Obviously mental health has been very like big recently and people have started to like talk about it more often. So it was a very prominent topic, especially for our age and generation.
Amy O. (04:46):
You know, when I met you guys, I think I had a short time to sort of fill you in on why I founded CATCH and one of the reasons why is exactly what you're outlining when you talk about the why's behind your movie. And that is that I wanted to ensure that parents in my community had a place to talk Had a place where it was safe to be not okay. Particularly around their kids' mental health journeys. And my question for you guys is since CATCH has been in existence, it's become very apparent to me that while I thought I was alone in in my parenting journey with my kid, I clearly was not. There are so many parents worried and struggling with their children's mental health. Do you see a lot of this at your school? Are you concerned about what you see in your friends and peers? Can you tell us a little bit about what you guys are noticing at middle school?
Eden Grunsberg (05:55):
I mean yeah, you can go ahead Ari.
Ari Braun (05:58):
Just like people kind of when they walk around like one day they're like really happy and then the next day they kind of have their head down not talking much and like you can see like a significant change in their behavior when something may or may not be going on, but,
Amy O. (06:12):
And do you feel like your friends and your peers know how to talk to someone when they see them walking around with their head down? Or do you think it's still,
Eden Grunsberg (06:21):
I think at this age it, I mean it's such a hard thing to do really. I mean like just to go up to someone and be like, Hey, are you okay? You know, I mean like sometimes I mean as a person, like you're not feeling very great mentally. Someone comes up to you, someone random is like, Hey, are you okay? Like, you're not always going to want to answer No. And so that's definitely hard as someone in middle school to just, you know, walk up to someone like that or approach it in the right way that's respectful. So I'd say probably not. It's, I mean we don't see a lot of people checking in like that. And so that's also kind of what motivated us to make this film.
Ari Braun (06:57):
And also something that I love about your guys' organization is that it's not only kids that are struggling with this, so there has to be a safe space for everybody, parents and kids. Yeah.
Amy O. (07:08):
This might be a really hard question and I don't mean to put you guys on the spot, but I think it kind of goes with this conversation and that is you do a good job in the film of, you know, the young woman who chooses to reach out understands what's happening, right? She sees in her peer or her friend the struggle. What if you're someone who doesn't necessarily understand that firsthand who might not have mental health challenges but wants to be a good friend? Do you guys like, can you shed some light on how people in middle and high school can get better at being a good ally for someone struggling with their mental health?
Eden Grunsberg (07:53):
I think that like, there's so many people, I mean like in high school and middle school that are struggling, there's also a lot of people that aren't. And in that handful of people that aren't, I'm there's, right, like you said, there's so many people that want to help and I think just like obviously you're not going to walk up to some random person and say like, hey, like are you struggling? But I think opening up that conversation with someone who you may be close with saying, Hey, how can I help? That's a huge thing to do.
Ari Braun (08:26):
I would also say probably educate yourself on you know, what they may be going through before you kind of like go into that. So, you know, like you can have sort of an idea of what they're going through.
Eden Grunsberg (08:39):
Amy O. (08:40):
If my daughter hears this Eden, she's going to jump with joy when she hears what you just said. Because what she's always reminding me to do is just to say, mom, how can I help you? Instead of listing off 7,000 things that I think would be helpful to her. Just making myself available when things are rough. So I think that's, I really think that's excellent advice.
Eden Grunsberg (09:04):
Dr. Lisa (09:05):
Do you guys find that it's hard sometimes, either for you or for your friends to even figure out like, is what I'm going through right now normal, you know, everyone gets a little stressed around exam time or around, you know, other different parts of the year or of school versus is there a real problem here, something that I need to address, something that I want to reach out to a friend to help them address? Is it tricky sometimes to even figure that out? Like what's normal and what goes beyond what might feel typical?
Eden Grunsberg (09:39):
Yeah, absolutely. I think that it's, it's so hard, especially at this age. You know, like everyone kind of, you know, has these like a school like not, not two personalities, but almost like you have this outside personality right at school where you're fun, you're with your friends, but then there's this second sort of thing you have at home where you kind of get to, you know, open up and relax because you're with your family. But when things are tough like that, especially around, you know, like you said exam time with and like family problems, things like that can be hard to kind of differentiate the two. And sometimes that second, like inside personality you have where you kick to process things, it can bleed into this like the stuff that you show on the outside. So yeah, I think it's definitely hard to kind of what's the word? I it's hard to maneuver all of that.
Amy O. (10:34):
It seems like that has to be exhausting too, right? To try to maneuver all of that to figure out what face you're putting forward and all the energy it must take.
Eden Grunsberg (10:44):
Amy O. (10:45):
Hey Ari, can you share with us a little bit about the actual process of making this film? How did you decide to land on stigma as the lens through which you discussed mental health? And can you tell us a little bit about the actual process of producing it?
Ari Braun (11:08):
Yeah, of course. So we chose the name Stigma because right now there's a very prominent stigma in just like talking about mental health. So we just thought that would be fitting and the filming process, I think writing, it took about six weeks, correct me if I'm wrong, somewhere around there. Is that right?
Eden Grunsberg (11:25):
Yeah, you're right. I think that was about the time.
Ari Braun (11:27):
And then filming, we got to get done in two days.
Amy O. (11:30):
Dr. Lisa (11:30):
Ari Braun (11:31):
One was at a school and one was at a house so you could, so we could get the school life like Eden said a school and in the home and that was two days, like I said. And the editing that took about, I think like a month of just like looking, reviewing, just like, yeah,
Eden Grunsberg (11:51):
We took a break though because both of us went to camp. So over the summer we kind of stopped and then came back and edited. But Ari did mainly most of the editing.
Amy O. (12:00):
And where did you learn to edit film Ari?
Ari Braun (12:03):
So when I was younger I would always like to play with like my dad's camera. He had a little camcorder that I used and then he gave me his like bigger camera. So that was fun. And then my parents started seeing that I really like to do this. So my mom posted something on Facebook and Kobe, our producer, reached out to us and I've been working with him since fifth grade, so that's like four years now. And he's taught me like everything I really know how to do now.
Eden Grunsberg (12:29):
Yeah, he's awesome. He's taught me, I mean like even like in like the, is he still in Prague?
Ari Braun (12:37):
No, he's home.
Eden Grunsberg (12:38):
He was at Prague Film School and just in the few months that I knew him I had learned so much from him. It was absolutely incredible. He's a great guy.
Dr. Lisa (12:48):
I wonder what it was like emotionally making the parts of the film where you really do such a beautiful job of also illuminating the challenges of speaking up about your mental health with some subtle and maybe some not so subtle disapproval or teasing or whatever we want to call it from peers who don't get it and who may not have those reactions that are welcoming and supportive. Can you talk a little bit more about what that felt like or if you see that happening within the halls of school or at home?
Eden Grunsberg (13:24):
Ari and I see that every day at school, people make fun for absolutely no reason. They don't even know a person and just because of how they're walking or what they're wearing, they think like it emulates some sort of like sad or like weird vibe, but in reality you never know what someone's going through. That's also one of the bottom lines of our film. So yeah, I mean we do see that all the time and we really wanted to put that focus in our film.
Ari Braun (13:53):
And a lot of the time the people making fun of the other people probably have some insecurity that they just can't express any other, or they don't know how to express any other way. So they take it out on other people.
Amy O. (14:04):
Wow. That is very insightful. That is something that I work on as a 60 year old woman to understand. I appreciate you saying that and I think it's true. You know, one of the things that Lisa and I really wanted to ask you guys about before we bring Agi into this conversation as well is a lot of the film takes place inside of a school. And you guys have already done a really good job of describing some of the things that you see happening. But in a perfect world, if you could have a school that prioritizes mental health and really embraces de-stigmatizing mental illness, what would that school look and feel like to you? What could the school do in other words to show that it is putting mental health first?
Eden Grunsberg (14:51):
I think Edgewood has this new thing now where I think the high school has it as well in Highland Park where you get three mental health days, like a year where it's just three days. You can take like whatever day in the year, it's like a day off almost. And I think that that is incredibly beneficial. So that should definitely be an as like an asset to like a perfect type of school. Also, I think a lot of talking because I mean sure like mental health is talked about like, oh, like go see the social worker if you're having problems. But like it's so vague to just say that like, it's like such a big idea. Just go talk to the social worker like some people it's so hard to just bring yourself to do that. And so I think that definitely like normalizing, I guess is the word which breaking the stigma which once again connects back to our film would be like an ideal school.
Ari Braun (15:47):
And also a lot of stress and like anxiety comes from school and like the workload that you're getting. Yeah. So I think that teachers should just be mindful on how much work they're giving their students and that kids do do things outside of school that maybe can like, just like relaxes them and makes them feel like they're like they have nothing.
Eden Grunsberg (16:08):
And also I think what would be beneficial adding onto Ari's idea is I think that it would be amazing if teachers also were able to look into, you know, the psychology behind teaching And I'm sure like when you get your teacher's degree and all of that stuff, you definitely look a lot and look into that a lot and study that. But I think like, I'm sure there's like a certain quote unquote formula for teaching, but what I think people have to start to realize is that everybody learns differently. Everyone learns differently in their own different way. And so by saying that especially take time to learn with their students and I mean there's a lot of teachers in our school that are amazing like that and some teachers aren't. Some teachers don't even care. And I think that the teachers that really do that and take time to know their students' learning patterns, that's something that's really amazing.
Ari Braun (17:00):
Yeah. And also I have ADHD, so the school provided me a 504 plan, which is amazing because I get to, you know, kind of, I get all these things that are accessible to me to, you know, help me learn. I think that that shouldn't only be accessible for people with 504 plans because everybody should, everybody needs or everybody has a different way of learning like Eden said.
Eden Grunsberg (17:22):
Yeah, I agree.
Dr. Lisa (17:25):
If you guys could pause on the film making for a short while and consider opening up a school, my kids are very young and they will happily attend. Okay.
Eden Grunsberg (17:36):
All right, we'll think about it.
Amy O. (17:39):
We want to ask you about what you're thinking about for your next projects. Do you guys have ideas in mind about the next film or films that you want to add to your repertoire?
Eden Grunsberg (17:52):
Ari and I are definitely still working on that part. We have a couple ideas in mind, but I think that definitely no matter what, even if the film may not be surrounded by the topic of mental health, we're definitely going to be keeping in touch with The Balance Project because they've been so amazing with us and hopefully we can work with them again in some way. And yeah, I mean like who knows? We'll have to see.
Ari Braun (18:20):
Yeah. And also if anybody else listening to this or if anybody here wants help with our next film or just, you know, help at all in any way, that'd be greatly appreciated.
Eden Grunsberg (18:28):
That would be incredible.
Dr. Lisa (18:30):
What a perfect segue into introducing Agi. Amy, you want to go?
Amy O. (18:35):
Yeah, we want to make sure that we give a big shout out to your sponsor. Agi Semrad is here of The Balance Project. They funded this wonderful film. CATCH had the pleasure of getting to know Agi through a collaboration that we call the Mental Health Alliance Together for Mental Health. So we'd love to hear from you. Agi, welcome.
Agi Semrad (18:57):
Thank you for having me. I feel honored to be part of this and have gotten to know Ari and Eden so much better over this last year. I can't believe Eden we met almost a year ago.
Eden Grunsberg (19:12):
I know, it's crazy.
Amy O. (19:13):
Agi, can you just share with us what you saw in these two kids and how it connects to the mission at The Balance Project? Tell us a little bit about what you guys are all about.
Agi Semrad (19:25):
Yeah, so I'll tell you what the mission of The Balance Project and then that'll make for an easy understanding and how this collaboration came to be. So The Balance Project was founded in August of 2019. The idea is understanding that we wanted to bring equitable access to mental healthcare. I've learned through my many years of therapy that your story is your superpower. And in knowing that I was able to dig deep, identify some of my barriers and realize that I was not alone. And that there are many other people that deal with similar barriers, whether it's time, distance, access to resources, financial barriers, awareness that those barriers exist across the board. So 10 years ago when I graduated from a school counseling program from DePaul, I came home after our ceremony and I looked at my husband and I said, listen, I have no idea how or when this is going to happen, but I am providing mental health for free. And he looked at me like, and I said, stop looking at me like that it's going to happen. So fast forward 10 years later many different professional roads that I took that led me back here and I started to move forward with it. So really the services that we provide is mental health education to provide insight and awareness before you reach the point of crisis. The other thing we do is that we work on building relationships very much like CATCH with mental health professionals in the community or surrounding communities so that we can connect people in need to valuable resources. And lastly, we raised money for grant opportunities for those in need. So each grant opportunity provides eight therapy sessions. And the number one question that we always get is, who's your demographic? Who's your target audience? And mental health does not discriminate. They don't care where you come from or who you are or what walk of life or how much money you make. So everyone's situation looks different. Maybe your barrier is financial, maybe your barrier is not having the insurance that they accept or not having insurance at all. Every scenario is different and we try to alleviate those barriers so that everyone has equitable access.
Amy O. (22:31):
Yeah. And your barrier can be as simple as not knowing how to go about it and you help with that as well.
Agi Semrad (22:39):
Amy O. (22:41):
And how did the collaboration with Ari and Eden come about?
Agi Semrad (22:45):
Last summer, Eden and Ari approached The Balance Project wanting to gain interest in supporting them with filming Stigma. Obviously we were very excited and very interested, so they prepared a PowerPoint, we took it to the board and had a meeting. And as you can imagine, everyone was very impressed, obviously including myself. They're both very talented and passionate about breaking the stigma around mental health. And it has been an honor to watch them grow in these roles.
Amy O. (23:30):
Thank you for sharing all of that. You guys are doing terrific work, including funding this remarkable documentary, the first of many to come, we hope. Before we close today's podcast though, so in the chicagoland area for our listening audience, the documentarians will be debuting their film on April 30th. Details to be shared soon. And am I right that you're also entering it in some film contests?
Eden Grunsberg (24:07):
Yes. I think we are.
Amy O. (24:08):
Well, we wish you the very best of luck.
Eden Grunsberg (24:13):
Thank you so much.
Amy O. (24:15):
Thank you for being part of our podcast today.
Ari Braun (24:18):
Yeah, thank you for having us.
Dr. Lisa (24:21):
We're really excited for your upcoming transition to high school too. Bring all of this with you into that building, you guys and your peers and everyone, it's just, it's a beautiful thing to, to carry in your pockets.
Eden Grunsberg (24:33):
Thank you so much.
Dr. Lisa (24:37):
Well, thank you for listening to another episode of Parenting the Mental Health Generation.
Amy O. (24:43):
Stay current on All CATCH programming by liking us on Facebook @CATCHiscommunity or by visiting our website CATCHiscommunity.org. We'll include a link to The Balanced Project's website in the show notes, and we will also include information on where you can see the documentary Stigma this spring.
Dr. Lisa (25:04):
We're glad that you were able to join us to continue the conversation. It's important to talk about our mental health, even when you have a limited voice like I do today. And reach out for help if needed.