North Preston filmmaker searches for healing in new doc about mental health

·3 min read
North Preston filmmaker searches for healing in new doc about mental health
Tyler Simmonds is a filmmaker, mental health advocate and professional speaker from North Preston, N.S.   (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC - image credit)
Tyler Simmonds is a filmmaker, mental health advocate and professional speaker from North Preston, N.S. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC - image credit)

Tyler Simmonds can pinpoint a time during his last year of high school when everything changed.

He remembers feeling overwhelmed, anxious and depressed.

"I got to this point where I thought to myself, 'I don't even know if I want to be here anymore,' and that can really do something to you," the filmmaker and public speaker from North Preston, N.S., told CBC Radio's Mainstreet.

"It really turned the switch in my head where I started thinking differently. I started thinking, 'Oh, if I'm going to live, I have to live with a purpose, I have to speak my truth.'"

Simmonds is now an advocate for mental health who regularly opens up about his own struggles with depression and anxiety as a way of helping others.

He hopes his latest project, a short documentary film called The Search For Healing, encourages communities like his hometown of North Preston to talk about mental health.

"It's hard talking about mental health because especially when you grow up in a Black community, you have these stereotypes and stigmas already attached to you," Simmonds said.

"It just really important to me to let other Black youth know that they're not alone."

In the film he interviews his own family members who are health-care professionals.

"It was really interesting because I got to speak to them about their experiences, just being a Black person working in the health-care system," he said.

He said he wants white health-care workers to see the importance of listening to Black patients and understanding where they're coming from.

"That cultural competency piece is so important, and I think that health-care professionals just really need to focus more on that," he said.

Screening at Halifax Black Film Festival

Since that time in high school, Simmonds said he's found ways to cope with his anxiety and depression, including mindfulness and meditation.

His family, friends and faith have been a source of strength and comfort, too.

"I think faith is really important," Simmonds said. "I think it's helped us get through a lot. It's helped North Preston and East Preston be the communities that they are now."

He also uses his films to better understand what he and so many other people experience.

In his first film, In My Mind, Simmonds explored what it's like to be surrounded by people he loves but still feel alone. His next film, There's Soul in Our Soil, looked at the intergenerational trauma caused by racism and how it affects mental health in North Preston.

The Search For Healing will screen at the Halifax Black Film Festival as part of the Being Black in Canada mentorship program, which paired emerging filmmakers with professionals working in the film industry.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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