Mental health has started to be treated with much more importance in the last decade. Charities, non-profit organizations and campaigns have sprung up around the world as we as a society begin to realize that mental health is just as important as physical health.
Usually at the forefront of movements, the entertainment industry seems to be catching up as glaring revelations from polls and personal anecdotes reveal a sometimes uncomfortable mental health environment. According to several studies, people who work in the performing arts are twice as likely to suffer from depression as the general population.
Zac Efron revealed in the Men’s Health October 2022 cover story interview how his diet and physical fitness for the 2017 film Baywatch resulted in his mental health being damaged while trying to compete with Dwayne Johnson in physical appearance .
“I got insomnia,” Efron said, “and I went into a pretty bad depression for a long time. Something about that experience burned me out. I was having a really hard time re-centering. They ended up blaming it on taking way too many diuretics for way too long and it messed things up a bit.” He added, “That Baywatch look, I don’t know if that’s really achievable. There is simply not enough water in the skin. Like, it’s fake; it looks CGI-d. And that required Lasix, powerful diuretics, to make that happen. So I don’t need that. I prefer a lot more, you know, 2 to 3 percent body fat.”
Six months after filming, Efron took a break from acting and was living in Australia when the pandemic began. Hollywood is littered with stories of acting talent being nurtured physically or mentally, often not receiving the support for the potential mental impact a project or circumstance can have.
Of course, it’s not just acting roles that can influence actors. Nor has it, especially in the current climate. Performers usually work on short contracts and are usually held to dry for long periods. This was even worse during the pandemic as the industry was decimated by lockdowns. Now, post-pandemic, there is mass inflation and a cost-of-living crisis to contend with.
The UK 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 actors and back-end crew/staff. They also offer a 24/7 hotline for mental health support and bridging grants to prevent industrial workers from falling into poverty.
Alex Pumfrey, CEO of Film and TV Charity said: “With the cost of living crisis and rising energy costs causing great concern, we want to ensure everyone in the television and film industry has access to the best possible advice and guidance.”
“Our new financial tools aren’t a miracle cure for the cost-of-living crisis, but they do offer a better way to plan and manage finances and ultimately build resilience… We really hope that people who work in film, television and cinema can help me in this one.” felt supported financially, emotionally and practically during an incredibly difficult time.”
Talks 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 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 luckily overcame it through 4 years of therapy,” he said. “My depression started in 2017: I often compared myself to other actors, I analyzed my auditions too much and I tried impossible to control the results – I became unhappy. I didn’t have balance as I spent my whole life trying to get the next acting gig. Through consistent therapy, I have been able to learn how my mind works, develop healthier habits, and learn to be more present.”
Blake added, “I’m fortunate to have overcome a depression that could have reached a much scarier point. I am now much more grateful for my career and I know that living a balanced and fulfilling life is what life is about. I’ve become a mental health advocate; I love psychology books, motivate others to chase their dreams, and am transparent about my struggles with depression.”
Webb credits one of his greatest successes with depression with 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; In learning, I have no control over all outcomes, regardless of my talent or hard work. I moved to Los Angeles when I was 30, which is considered too old by most, but I never wanted to feel limited by it. However, factors such as connections, height, weight, hair color, skin tone and voice all factor into the booking. Most are things we cannot control.”
“I worked extremely hard: exercising, attending countless classes and casting workshops, doing headshots and auditioning while working full-time in graphic design to fund all of this. In order to survive, I had to learn to balance my life better. I wasn’t sociable; I put life on hold while all my energy went into acting. This eventually led to an imbalance that caused panic attacks and depression while ignoring the success I was experiencing. I have had to learn to focus on what is under my control, not to victimize myself, to enjoy life, to date, to travel and most importantly to live – while still pursuing this difficult career.” He concluded.
Like many others, Webb cites therapy as a massive element in helping him understand his imaginative mind. As times get tougher because of our tax climate, it’s important that no matter who you are in the entertainment industry, you should take care of 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.