A crew works on the Cache Productions documentary Are You Listening? A Pathway to Empathy, about mental illness.

‘Listening to understand’ is key to helping people with mental illness

Local filmmaker Rueben Tschetter’s latest doc aims to increase awareness, empathy

When trying to help someone who’s depressed or suicidal, it’s all in the listening, said a local filmmaker.

Are You Listening? A Pathway to Empathy is the latest — and largest — Cache Productions documentary produced by Rueben Tschetter, of Red Deer.

The local 50-minute film, made with a crew of 15, was sparked by a spate of youth suicides at local high schools over the past few years. It was also inspired by city resident Rick More, who’s been raising awareness about mental illness since his depressed daughter, Lindsey, killed herself in 2015.

Tschetter filmed More as he was speaking to Notre Dame High School students about Lindsey. He also filmed interviews with health professionals, social workers and a priest — and through the process, he learned a lot about how to listen to people who are sharing their emotional troubles.

“There are two kinds of listening,” said Tschetter — “listening to respond, and listening to understand.”

The first kind assumes the troubled person wants a quick, easy answer. But Tschetter believes people benefit more from feeling someone is trying to understand them. “They don’t want to hear, ‘This is just a phase’…”

Wanda Reinholdt, a Strathmore-area filmmaker whom Tschetter brought on board to direct the film, said many well-meaning individuals respond to somebody’s emotional troubles with platitudes such as ‘things will get better,’ because confronting the reality of mental illness is “scary.”

“We are left wondering how do we handle it? What do we say? Where do do we go? … Nobody wants to take responsibility.”

The film brings up a statistic that can also be found on More’s Smiles Thu Lindsey Foundation website — that mental illness comprises 10 per cent of diseases, yet receives only seven per cent of health funding.

But while several health professionals talk on camera about what additional services and financial resources are needed, Tschetter said the main focus of Are You Listening? is on what individuals can do to help.

Reinholdt and Tschetter hope Are You Listening? will provide some strategies for how to really listen, and then how to offer supportive suggestions, such as encouraging the person to call a local suicide prevention centre or see their doctor.

The film, a documentary with some narrative, scripted segments, can be seen at www.thecacheproject.ca after June 2. The filmmakers are also hoping to later distribute it to Telus Optik TV, schools and to film festivals.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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