Despite being a well-known hotbed of cognitive struggle, the discussion around mental health in the entertainment industry is only recently reaching the masses. Back in 2015, a study was released that revealed the plight of not just creatives within the industry, but the teams who work behind them.
Soul-crushing hours, relentless workloads, and (for the most part) lousy pay aren’t exclusive to the entertainment realm, so it’s clear there’s a larger picture to look at. Why is it that creatives and their corporate counterparts are so prone to mental health issues? And why are these common issues going untreated for so long?
To find out more, we spoke with Psychologist and Director of Moving Mindsets Psychology Clinic Sarah Godfrey. Sarah works closely with members from all spheres of the entertainment industry, providing her otherwise unobtainable insight into the epidemic.
The Neversphere: First and foremost, why is it that the entertainment industry is so rife with mental health issues?
Sarah Godfrey: There’s three main factors. The first is the personality profile of people drawn to the entertainment industry. They’re usually very outgoing, they like unrestricted lifestyles, love unpredictability and don’t stick well to routine. The entertainment industry is a great area for that because people who are highly creative, unique and sometimes erratic fit well into that very flexible lifestyle and career path that other people wouldn’t.
Then there’s the psychological profile. I’m really generalising but those personalities, if we had to be horribly clinical and labelling, they often will be on the hyperactive side or prone to anxiety or depression, mood and personality issues. Mainly because being creative has that; to be an imaginative soul there has to be a part of you that’s a little bit unique.
Then there’s the odd industry itself, which is like shift work. However, people in the industry don’t really treat it like shift work. Where people who do shift work have a regulated sleeping and lifestyle pattern around their work, the entertainment industry is far more erratic. You can be playing in a band until 1am and be up in the morning to do a show on TV at 7am. Or, if you’re an actor you could be doing a play until 11:30 at night then back doing a matinee at 12. It’s a lot more unstructured than regular shift work so it’s very hard to get routines, particularly with sleeping patterns.
The last element is the entertainment industry is fun! It’s highly social, it’s all about going out, so three’s a lot of activity around and after the work you do. Drugs and alcohol are often involved because it’s the nightlife and the party scene.
The Neversphere: Going off that, is it safe to say that the entertainment industry purely attracts people who are already predisposed to mental health issues rather than the industry itself beating people into these conditions?
Sarah: I don’t think the entertainment industry, from my perspective, is highly supporting of mental illness. I think to deal with people, particularly on the more famous end of the spectrum, it takes a lot of skill to manage their complex issues and lifestyles.
There’s a lot of known support for people in the entertainment industry but the data shows that between 55-60% of entertainers suffer some form of mental illness, even if it’s on the low end of the spectrum such as performance anxiety. So we know they’re highly prone of it, and yet they’re not seeking the day to day support they need.
The Neversphere: The cliche of the tormented artist or the stressed-out manager are about as old as the industry itself. Given that, why do artists and industry professionals find it so hard to admit they’re struggling and seek help?
There’s a couple of things. From a professional point of view, it has to be about acceptance. It’s not as much about changing them as much, it’s about managing what’s causing the distress. Their lifestyles mean they often have irregular session times. For me, my clients in the industry, it’s more about being on call.
If they’re touring or doing shows at night, they can’t often turn up regularly. So it’s about finding help that is flexible as well. Many of them don’t want to sit in a waiting room to see someone so it’s about organising hours that are less obvious. There’s a nervousness about it getting out and ending up in the papers.
There’s lots of little insecurities around going but the big thing is, because they have this very flexible personality profile, they’re usually very good in therapy. They enjoy talking, they enjoy learning, a lot of it they use in there own professions. They make very good clients but they can be erratic because of their professional commitments.
It’s a mix of finding the right people, and not being afraid of saying ‘I have an issue and to resolve it won’t change my talent, but I’ll probably be a bit happier”
The Neversphere: What has your work taught you about those involved with the corporate side of things, about entertainment industry professionals who are heavily involved with the creatives while also operating within a corporate sphere?
Sarah: They have a very hard job. I was reading somewhere that Roadies have the highest suicidal rate…
The Neversphere: There was a study that mentioned music industry jobs had twice the suicide attempt rate of the general population…
Sarah: So, they’re doing the grunt work with less money but they’re still managing the high profile personalities, which is quite the job to have. I don’t think they seek help as much because seeking help is expensive! Sometimes that can be a deterring factor.
Sometimes the people in the background don’t see that they’re carrying a lot of stress. They become normalised to it. Often they don’t crash and burn until they have a period of time off, then we see the effects of this lifestyle kick in. But, while they’re moving, while they’re on the job they aren’t processing stress levels.
The Neversphere: I can vouch from my personal experience that once I hit holidays and put the auto-response on my emails, the silence can be deafening and I end up feeling fairly useless during the holiday period.
Sarah: Train yourself to have a parallel life. That’s the busy, high energy, manic life of the industry but also continuing to work on the quieter life. When you go on holiday, if you know a lot about who you are you can understand sitting around the house isn’t going to work. So when you do go on holiday, choose something that’s relaxing but still busy so it doesn’t come to a grinding hold.
People in the industry are usually highly social. So if they’re not consuming a highly social life, that can tip you into depression because it goes against your profile. So it’s about planning. If you have time off, you plan. You organise things to do.
The Neversphere: Have you discovered any tips or techniques, that require no guidance, that can be implemented by people within the industry – both the creative and the corporate side, that can help them acclimate to the flux and flow?
The best thing you can do is have a consistent friendship group or mentors that are grounding you. Your elevated or your social personality, the one that everyone sees, that has to align quite close to who you are when the camera comes off. The further apart they are, the more chaotic it becomes. So, having someone to keep your feet on the ground will remind you that you’re not just a star, you’re a human being. So it’s about not getting too caught up in the noise around you.
On a personal level, if your social self, or famous self becomes too far removed from who you actually are or who you started off as, that’s when we see depression and anxiety really collect, because you don’t recognise yourself. If you start to believe the hype, you’ve moved too far away from who you are.
In between doing a film, or the parties, the touring or whatever you do in the industry, I think that’s the time to link in with your mentor, your coach or whoever you trust and reflect on what’s happened, what you learned and how you’re growing here as a person. Are you happy with it? What would you like to work on this time? Going back to ground zero with yourself each time; you don’t become so caught up and the anxiety and depression won’t hit hard when it stops.
The Neversphere: Have you noticed any change in attitudes from the industry given the current discussion around mental health?
Sarah: Yeah! We’re starting to see more people, particularly high-profile people, have their therapist. They become part of the team. Australia is very good with sports. Sports now has the same theory that performance is a lot about training but also enormously about how mentally fit you are.
In Australian sports having a psychologist is normal, and in fact an essential part of success. We’re slowly moving towards that in the entertainment industry. We’re seeing more and more referrals coming through now. We’re seeing the effect, because as I said, they’re usually quite exciting clients to have because there’s a thirst for knowledge about human behaviour, so they respond well and treatment appears to be effective too.
It’s about the industry really promoting that part of success is being psychologically healthy and if everyone has someone, it doesn’t have to be a psychologist, but someone they touch base with on a semi-regular basis, so you’re constantly having this other person to reflect on how you’re doing. They can pick up big things. They might be able to say ‘you look like you’re hitting a manic stage, we might need to be careful about your decision making here’ or ‘you seem to be sliding back into a depression, what are we going to do about it?’
There are issues in the industry. It’s a high pressure industry that’s prone to lots of anxiety and depression, and ignoring it makes it a big problem…
…But getting onto it quickly means you can resolve it quickly.
If you or any one you know is struggling, regardless of what industry, support from beyondblue and lifeline is only a click away.