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The breakdown of mental health in the post-pandemic entertainment industry

Mental health has started to be treated with much more importance in the last decade. Charities, non-profit organizations and campaigns have been launched around the world as we as a society begin to realize that mental health is just as essential as physical health.

Usually at the forefront of movements, the entertainment industry seems to be in catch-up mode as stark revelations from recordings and personal anecdotes reveal a sometimes unpleasant environment for mental health. According to several studies, people who work in the performing arts are twice as likely to experience depression as the general population.

In the Men’s Health October 2022 cover story interview, Zac Efron revealed how his diet and physical fitness for the 2017 movie Baywatch led to him compromising his mental health as he tried to compete with Dwayne Johnson in physical appearance.

“I started developing 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 revising. Finally they noticed taking way too many diuretics for too long, and that messed something up.” He added: “That Baywatch look, I don’t know if it’s really possible. There’s just too little water in the skin. Like, it’s fake; it looks CGI’d. And it has Lasix, powerful diuretics, required to achieve. So I don’t have to. 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 settled in Australia at the start of the pandemic. Hollywood is littered with stories of acting talent being physically or mentally driven and often not receiving the support around the potential mental effects a project or circumstance can have.

Of course, it’s not just acting roles that can influence artists. Neither have they, especially in the current climate. Usually working on short contracts, artists are usually kept out to dry for long periods of time. It 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 UK’s Film & TV Charity has set out to help with this through a partnership with MoneyHelper which includes tools such as a budget planner and a savings calculator for both actors and backroom crew/crew. They also offer a 24/7 helpline for mental health support and stop-gap grants to stop industry workers falling into poor conditions.

Alex Pumfrey, Film and TV Charity’s CEO said: “With the cost of living crisis and rising energy bills causing serious 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 are not a magic bullet for the cost of living crisis, but they provide 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.”

Talk to veteran actor Blake Webb, who has guest-starred on Criminal Minds, NCIS, 13 Reasons Why, American Horror Story, Good Trouble and The Rookie, among others; he believes that a healthy mindset is important, as well as established operating protocols established by unions, agents, studios and the actors themselves.

“I battled deep depression and anxiety in Los Angeles, and thankfully overcame it through 4 years of therapy,” he said. “My depression started in 2017: I often compared myself to other actors, I overanalyzed my auditions, and I tried as hard as I could to control results – I became miserable. I didn’t have balance because my whole life was trying to get the next act. Through consistent therapy, I was 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 am now much more grateful for my career, aware that a balanced and full life is what life is all about. I became an advocate for mental health; I love psychology books, motivating others to chase their dreams and being transparent about my struggles with depression.”

Webb writes one of his greatest successes about depression is 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; learn I do not have control over all outcomes, regardless of 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. Factors such as connections, height, weight, hair color, skin color and voice – all go into discussion. Most are things we can’t control.”

“I worked really hard: staying fit, taking tons of classes and workshops, getting headshots and doing auditions, all while working full-time in graphic design to fund it all. For my survival, I had to learn to balance my life better. I didn’t visit; I put life on hold while all my energy went into acting. Ultimately, this led to an imbalance that caused panic attacks and depression while ignoring the success I was experiencing. I had to learn to put my mind on what is within my control, to not victimize myself, to enjoy life, dating, travel, and most importantly, to live – while still pursuing this difficult career.” He concluded.

Webb, as many others do, cites therapy as a massive element that helped 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 look out for yourself and others. Finding a professional to talk to is nothing to be ashamed of. Hopefully the entertainment industry can continue to look for ways to offer mental health options to the many out there who are suffering in silence.

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