The Silent Mental Health Crisis in Hollywood

Eleven years ago, my partner was in graduate school earning his Masters in Fine Arts when his classmate endured a psychotic break during rehearsal one day. I remember the call I received when he told me what him and his classmates had witnessed;

“What are they doing to support you?” I asked.
“Uh.. well, nothing.” He replied.

He quickly had to get off the phone, saying he had to head to another class. I was shocked when the call ended so casually.

At the time, I was earning my Master's in Social Work, where many of the conversations I was having in class were centered around how to provide proper support to vulnerable populations. I was appalled at how his school failed to respond to this crisis in an appropriate manner.

There was no process group, no discussion of what had transpired, no one to address questions my partner and his classmates had. It was as if life, classes, and study just continued as usual. Eventually, the school did provide therapy to the class. It came far too late.

Contrary to popular belief, I came to learn that an entertainment career is not always glamorous.

The reality is that there is a pandemic of exploitation, stigma, and silence that permeates the industry at all levels.

Artists enter the industry because of their interest in telling human stories, but telling these stories can come at a cost to their health and well-being. Unfortunately, this has become almost expected for creatives who wish to make a living doing what they love.

Over the years I have heard countless stories from friends, colleagues, and clients, that demonstrate how the industry has failed to respond appropriately to mental health needs, let alone promote an atmosphere of well-being.

I have heard stories of burnout, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, depression, debilitating performance, and audition anxiety.

I have also heard of discrimination, sexism, racism, long work hours, financial uncertainty, and unrealistic expectations, especially for crew members.

What’s worse is that people who find themselves in these circumstances receive little to no support from the agencies, productions, and studios that employ them to do the work. Many industry professionals report that they are afraid to ask for mental health support or speak out because they fear losing their job and any future work potential.

As I write this, there is a labor movement underway to demand change within the industry.

The International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) is the union that supports skilled behind-the-scenes technicians and artisans employed by networks and streaming platforms.

Recently, IATSE has been in contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) Association to advocate for living wages, adequate sleep, and meal breaks. The talks have not gone well and have influenced many workers to speak out against conditions across the film and television industry.

Covid has put even more strain on a workforce that is reaching a breaking point. These industry employees are crucial to producing content that streaming services like Amazon, Netflix, Apple, and Hulu produce and from which they continue to profit greatly. The average consumer of creative content has no idea what occurs behind the scenes of some of their most treasured streaming platforms, and this is a problem on which I hope to continue to shed light.

The Real-Life Impact Of Poor Mental Health in Hollywood

Over the past year, I have been looking into the research that exists with regard to the mental health of artists and creatives in the entertainment sector. I have found very little data; however, what does exist is disturbing.

For example, a 2019 study of entertainment industry workers in the US concluded that over 80% of respondents experienced anxiety and depression and that these workers were 4x more likely to consider suicide than the general population.

The study also found that 40% of entertainment workers used substances to cope with toxic stress brought on by working conditions, rejection, financial insecurity, and reminders of their own lived experience of trauma when dealing with traumatic content.