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Mental health film produced by Ken Burns features WU student

by Jennifer Johnson,

Billie Henderson

For several years, Billie Henderson ’24 (pronouns: she/they) has lived with depression, anxiety and anorexia. Now she’s offering her experience as a way to help others in a new documentary produced by Ken Burns. 

In “Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness,” Henderson and more than 20 young Americans describe their symptoms of the mental illness and the impact of social media, childhood trauma and stigma. Perspectives from providers, families and advocates are also included in the two-part series, which premiered on PBS late last month and is now streaming

Promotion for the series has included special events across the country. Participants visited the White House, where they met First Lady Jill Biden, attended screenings and held a Q&A in front of hundreds of people, said Henderson. 

She first heard about “Hiding in Plain Sight” through her involvement in Work2BeWell, a youth-led mental health and wellness program. Her mother is chief clinical officer of the program and leads the organization’s podcast. 

Interviewed for the documentary at age 17, Henderson talked about coming out as transgender at her high school in West Linn. 

“I’d always known I was trans, and I never really had that opportunity to express myself the way I truly wanted to,” she said. “When I came out, that’s when all of the bullying and harassment ramped up.” 

The resulting trauma and her self-described “botched” hormone replacement therapy led to an eating disorder, a 100-day medical leave during high school, drug abuse and psychiatric treatment.  Today she finds support in part from her incredibly supportive network of family and friends who were there for her at her worst. “If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here today,” she said. 

Henderson is very proud to be part of the film and will continue to travel to promote it.

“My goal is to just help as many people as I can,” she said. “If I can help make someone’s life a little less miserable, then I will have done my part.”  

Henderson and other documentary participants walking with First Lady Jill Biden at the White House

Henderson and other documentary participants met First Lady Jill Biden at the White House for a screening of the film.

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