Mental health has started to be treated with much more prominence over the past decade. Charities, non-profit organizations and campaigns have been launched around the world as we begin to recognize as a society that mental health is just as vital as physical health.
Usually at the forefront of movements, the entertainment industry seems to be in catch-up mode, as harsh revelations from investigations and personal anecdotes reveal a sometimes unpleasant environment for mental health. According to several studies, people working in the performing arts are twice as likely to suffer from depression as the general population.
Zac Efron, in the October 2022 Men’s Health cover interview, revealed how his diet and fitness for the 2017 film Baywatch took a toll on his mental health as he tried to compete with Dwayne Johnson in physical appearance.
“I started developing insomnia,” Efron said, “and fell into a pretty severe depression for a long time. Something about that experience burned me. I had a really hard time getting centered. In the end, they assigned too many diuretics for too long, and it messed something up. He added, “That Baywatch look, I don’t know if it’s really doable. There’s just too little water in the skin. Like, it’s fake; it looks like CGI. And it needed Lasix, strong diuretics, to do it. So I don’t have to. I’d much rather have a supplement , you know, 2-3% body fat.
Six months after filming wrapped, Efron took a break and went to live in Australia at the start of the pandemic. Hollywood is replete with stories of acting talent being pushed physically or mentally and often not receiving support regarding the potential mental effects a project or circumstance may have.
It’s not just acting roles that can affect performers, of course. It’s also not having them, especially in the current climate. Usually working on short-term contracts, performers are usually held dry for long periods of time. It was even worse during the pandemic, as lockdowns decimated the industry. Now, after the pandemic, there is massive inflation and a cost of living crisis to contend with.
The UK’s Film & TV Charity aims to help with this through a partnership with MoneyHelper which includes tools such as a budget planner and savings calculator for cast and crew/staff. ‘background. They also offer a 24/7 helpline for mental health support and palliative grants to prevent industrial workers from falling into conditions of poverty.
Alex Pumfrey, CEO of Film and TV Charity, said: “With the cost of living crisis and rising energy bills causing serious concern, we want to ensure that everyone in the industry television and cinema have access to the best possible advice and guidance.”
“Our new financial tools are not a silver bullet to the cost of living crisis, but they provide greater ability to plan and manage finances and ultimately build resilience…We hope truly that people working in film, television and film can feel financially, emotionally and practically supported during this incredibly difficult time.
Talk with veteran actor Blake Webb, who has starred in Criminal Minds, NCIS, 13 Reasons Why, American Horror Story, Good Trouble, and The Rookie, among others; he believes a healthy mindset is important, as well as industry-established protocols promulgated by unions, agents, studios and the actors themselves.
“I struggled with deep depression and anxiety in Los Angeles, and thankfully beat them through 4 years of therapy,” he said. “My depression started in 2017: I often compared myself to other actors, I over-analyzed my auditions and tried in impossible ways to control the results – I became miserable. I had no balance, because my whole life has been trying to get the next acting gig. Through consistent therapy, I’ve been able to learn how my mind works, adopt healthier habits, and learn to be more present.
Blake added: “I feel lucky to have overcome a depression which could have reached a much more frightening point. I am now much more grateful for my career, aware that a balanced and full life is what life. I have become a mental health advocate; I love psychology books, motivating others to pursue their dreams, and being transparent about my battles with depression.
Webb attributes one of his greatest successes to depression in understanding what you can and cannot control, and most importantly, being at peace with it.
“One of the biggest challenges I had to overcome was rejection; learning I don’t have control over all the outcomes, no matter how talented or how hard I worked. I moved to Los Angeles at 30 , which is considered too old by most, but I never wanted to feel limited because of it. However, factors such as relationships, height, weight, hair color, color of the skin and the voice all go into the reservation.Most of them are things that we can’t control.
“I’ve worked extremely hard: staying in shape, taking tons of classes and casting workshops, getting portraits and auditioning, all while working full-time in graphic design to fund it all. For my survival , I needed to learn how to balance my life better. I didn’t socialize; I put life on hold while all my energy was devoted to acting. Eventually, this led to an imbalance that caused panic attacks and depression, while I was unaware of the success I was experiencing. I had to learn to focus on what was under my control, not to victimize myself, to enjoy life, dates, trips, and most importantly, to live — while pursuing this difficult career, he concluded.
Webb, like many others, cites therapy as a massive part of helping him understand his imaginative mind. As times get tougher due to our fiscal climate, it’s important that no matter who you are in the entertainment industry, you take care of yourself and others. Finding a professional to talk to is not something to be ashamed of. Hopefully the entertainment industry can continue to look for ways to provide mental health options for the many who are quietly suffering.
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