Mental health has begun to be treated with much more importance over the past decade. Charities, non-profits, and campaigns have been launched all 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 stark revelations from surveys 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 experience depression as the general population.
Zac Efron, in the Men’s Health October 2022 cover story interview, revealed how his diet and physical fitness for the 2017 movie Baywatch led to harming his mental health as he tried to compete with Dwayne Johnson in physical appearance.
“I started to develop insomnia,” Efron said, “and I fell into a pretty bad depression for a long time. Something about that experience burned me out. I had a really hard time recentering. Ultimately they chalked it up to taking way too many diuretics for way too long, and it messed something up.” He added, “That Baywatch look, I don’t know if that’s really attainable. There’s just too little water in the skin. Like, it’s fake; it looks CGI’d. And that required Lasix, powerful diuretics, to achieve. So I don’t need to do that. I much prefer to have an extra, you know, 2 to 3 percent body fat.”
Six months after filming wrapped Efron took a break from acting and went to live in Australia around the start of the pandemic. Hollywood is littered with stories of acting talent being pushed physically or mentally and often not receiving the support around the potential mental effects a project or circumstances can put on.
It’s not just acting roles that can affect performers, of course. It’s also not having them, especially in the current climate. Working usually on short contracts, performers are usually held out to dry for long periods. This was even worse during the pandemic, as lockdowns decimated the industry. Now, post-pandemic, there is mass inflation and a cost of living crisis to contend with.
The U.K.’s Film & TV Charity has aimed to help with this through a partnership with MoneyHelper that includes tools such as a budget planner and a savings calculator for both actors and back-end crew/staff. They are also offering a 24/7 helpline for mental health support and stop-gap grants to stop industry workers from falling into impoverished conditions.
Alex Pumfrey, Film and TV Charity’s CEO said: “With the cost-of-living crisis and rising energy bills causing grave concern, we want to ensure that everyone in the TV and film industry has access to the best advice and guidance possible.”
“Our new financial tools aren’t a magic bullet to the cost-of-living crisis, but they do offer a greater ability to plan and manage finances and ultimately strengthen resilience…We really hope that people working in film, TV, and cinema can feel financially, emotionally, and practically supported during this incredibly difficult period.”
Speaking with veteran actor Blake Webb, who has guest starred in Criminal Minds, NCIS, 13 Reasons Why, American Horror Story, Good Trouble, and The Rookie, amongst others; he believes that a healthy mindset is important, as well as set industry protocols enacted by unions, agents, studios, and actors themselves.
“I battled deep depression and anxiety in Los Angeles, and fortunately conquered it through 4 years of therapy,” he said. “My depression began in 2017: I compared myself often to other actors, I overanalyzed my auditions, and I tried impossibly to control results – I became miserable. I didn’t have balance, as my whole life was trying to get the next acting gig. Through consistent therapy, I’ve been able to learn how my mind works, achieve healthier habits, and learn to be more present.”
Blake added: “I’m lucky to have overcome a depression that could have reached a much scarier point. I’m now much more grateful for my career, mindful that a balanced and full life is what life is all about. I’ve become an advocate for mental health; I love psychology books, motivating others to chase their dreams, and being transparent about my battles with depression.”
Webb chalks up one of his biggest successes over depression to understanding what you can and can’t 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 outcomes, no matter my talent or hard work. I moved to Los Angeles at age 30, which is considered too old by most, but I never wanted to feel limited because of this. However, factors such as connections, height, weight, hair color, skin color, and voice – all go into booking. Most are things we cannot control.”
“I worked extremely hard: staying fit, taking tons of classes and casting workshops, getting headshots, and auditioning, all while working full-time in graphic design to fund all of this. For my survival, I needed to learn to balance my life better. I wasn’t socializing; I put living life on hold while all my energy went towards acting. Eventually, this led to an imbalance that caused panic attacks and depression, while I ignored the success I was experiencing. I had to learn to put my mind to what is within my control, to not victimize myself, to enjoy life, date, travel, and most importantly, to live – whilst still pursuing this difficult career.” He concluded.
Webb, as many others do, lists therapy as a massive element that helped him understand his imaginative mind. As times grow tougher because of our fiscal climate, it’s important that regardless of who you are in the entertainment industry, you should look out for yourself and others. Seeking a professional to talk to is not something to be ashamed of. Hopefully, the entertainment industry can continue to seek ways to provide mental health options to the many out there who are quietly suffering.