‘It needs to be seen:’ Documentary in the works for northern Sask. mental health initiative

Sheena and Nick Hennink are filming a documentary about Men of the North’s work to provide men’s mental health support in northern communities. Programming includes activities such as fish filleting in Buffalo Narrows. -- Sheena Hennink/Submitted

A husband-wife team are capturing the work of a northern Saskatchewan men’s mental health project for an upcoming documentary.

Chris Merasty launched Men of the North to provide support for boys and men to both offset and recover from mental health struggles. Programming includes mentor sessions, workshops, leadership development and activities such as fitness, yard work and hiking.

The non-profit organization chose Sheena and Nick Hennink to tag along and create a documentary. The couple is originally from Moose Jaw, but now lives in Cochrane, Alta.

“It’s heartbreaking sometimes to hear so much pain,” said Nick.

But at the same time, he added, he’s witnessing the youth in a supportive and uplifting environment.

“I’m watching these guys smile and have a great time. It means a lot to see that, and it’s encouraging to see that there’s hope – a lot of hope – if they can just find the right crowd.”

Nick is an advanced care paramedic. He’s been off work the past couple of years due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“I dealt with alcoholism; I was stuck in rehab three times; I’ve had PTSD. I understand that early prevention is incredibly important,” he said.

Nick and Sheena have filmed and conducted interviews in Men of the North’s four locations: Prince Albert, Saskatoon, La Ronge and Buffalo Narrows.

(From left to right) Sheena Hennink, Chris Merasty and Nick Hennink. — Sheena Hennink/Submitted

Earlier this week, they were filming at Peter Pond Lake where mentors were teaching participants how to fillet fish. They’ve also captured the 65 yard challenge, where youth take on yard maintenance for elders, people with disabilities and low-income families.

For Sheena, the goal is to spread the message that it’s okay for men to express their emotions. It also shows the need for mental health funding in isolated communities.

“If you go to these northern communities and you’re having suicidal thoughts, there isn’t anything that you can really do about it, so lots of times what’s happening is they’re picking up drugs and alcohol to get rid of those thoughts,” she said.

They’ve also interviewed politicians and police officers, for example, to get an overarching picture of related topics like suicide and addictions.

She said the youth they’ve interviewed, most between 14 and 17 years old, are initially hesitant to share their stories. The documentary-making process has included a lot of relationship building, said Sheena.

“We’re treading really lightly on that, of course, but once they’ve shared that and they know, that’s okay. I know it’s hard, but that’s okay,” she said.

“When the kids have opened up, the light just comes on.”

The Men of the North documentary is being filmed in Prince Albert, Saskatoon, La Ronge and Buffalo Narrows. — Sheena Hennink/Submitted

The pair have been filming for over three weeks and plan on wrapping production at the end of the month. Sheena said they’re aiming for a November release.

“I know it’s easy to close your eyes because it’s at home, right? And it’s like ‘Oh, people will help them’…Chris is the only one I’ve seen that is actually going into these communities, boots on the ground,” she said.

“It needs to be seen; it needs to be heard.”

According to Men of the North’s website, the organization has supported over 300 members in seven communities.