Mental health issues and suicide are not too uncommon in the entertainment industry, being shown time and time again with the loss of performers such as Kurt Cobain, Robin Williams and very recently, following a long battle with depression, Melbourne musician Fergus Miller. We had the pleasure of speaking to Susan Cooper, General Manager of Entertainment Assist, about their recent report that provides statistics on this troubling link. Cooper said that upon their inception, they decided that it was time to stop “as an industry, putting on band-aids” and to do something.
Prior to mental health becoming the priority, Entertainment Assist initially looked at all the pitfalls of the industry, with Cooper stating that mental health issues appeared to be the “common denominator,” and that it “made much more sense to focus on what’s causing the real challenges and certainly the loss of life.” To bring light to this common denominator, Entertainment Assist has recently released a research report uncovering serious health and wellbeing concerns (such as mental health problems, drug and alcohol use, and suicide) for those who work in the Australian entertainment industry. Findings are determined with the use of older research as well as an Australian study that the group conducted themselves with a group of 2,904 Australian entertainment industry workers.
The research conducted by Entertainment Assist required the placement of industry professionals into three groups: Group 1) performing artists and music composers; Group 2) performing arts support workers, and Group 3) broadcasting, film and recorded media equipment operators. Participants were described as hard workers who are “relatively young” and “well-educated,” who are in their chosen profession because of the pride they get from creative expression, and the opportunity to impact audiences in a positive, entertaining way.
Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the report found that issues regarding mental health and suicide within members of the entertainment industry are much more prominent than in Australia’s general population.
With a heavy heart we are regretfully announcing the passing of our dear friend Fergus Miller.
Fergus was an…
What about the entertainment industry is causing this?
The passion and commitment of those in the entertainment industry is found to be often tainted by “an industry that is not yet providing its members with a positive, supportive, and nurturing work environment.” Some participants discussed experiences with bullying, sexual assault, sexism, and racism in the workplace “which is ignored or dealt with inadequately” by the often “very negative, unsupportive,” and “even brutal” industry. More than half of participants reported a “culture of criticism.” Dianna Kenny, Professor of Psychology and Music at the University of Sydney, said in a blunt and telling statement in 2014, that many musicians “end up feeling suffocated, caged and possessed by their minders, exploiters and fans. And many end up dead.”
Many other stressors identified throughout Entertainment Assist’s findings are performance anxiety, a feeling that the public “do not understand,” work overload and underload, career anxiety, irregular hours, high injury rates, and low financial rewards (income levels from sixty-five percent of participants were reported as being below the Australian average) and security. Those in the entertainment industry often work evenings and weekends at irregular and unpredictable times. These conditions have been identified as being “risk factors” that affect sleep patterns and the maintenance of social relationships, further fostering the prevalence of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
The report determines that those within the entertainment industry are up to five times more likely to suffer from depressive symptoms than the general Australian population. The levels of anxiety symptoms were found to be even higher. Cooper expressed that a target for improving the workplace is to focus on practices and “to make sure that employers actively support the mental health and wellbeing of their employees.”
Why aren’t sufferers seeking professional help?
The breakdown of stigma surrounding sufferers of mental illness within the entertainment industry is becoming more prevalent each day, from Bruce Springsteen’s announcement of his lifelong struggle with depression to Zayn Malik’s recent comments on his performance anxiety. In Entertainment Assist’s findings, the response “I am too embarrassed to admit I need support” was the least used. So if no one’s embarrassed, why aren’t they reaching out?
The sad fact is that a majority of sufferers simply don’t know where to look for support in their industry. Despite access to support from significant others and family members, there is little to no support from the industry itself. A frequent barrier faced by performers in seeking support was a feeling that they cannot afford to pay for it, even if they could find help. In the face of this, Cooper noted the importance of spreading awareness of services such Lifeline, Beyond Blue, and Suicide Call Back Service. Additionally, those facing mental health issues must be made aware that they are able to be given a mental health plan by their local GP, and that under Medicare they are entitled to 10 sessions with a psychologist each calendar year.
The entertainment industry is a large one and, as Cooper described, “there’s lots of sectors in the industry – each with different governing bodies.” Because of this, Entertainment Assist hopes to “form some sort of industry alliance where we can all get together and talk about the same issues.” On a smaller level, Cooper went on to highlight the importance of peer to peer support by “advocating for people to take care of themselves and support their peers.”
Without professional help, how are sufferers managing?
It’s an unfortunate fact that many sufferers of mental health issues resort to drugs and alcohol. Users in the Entertainment Assist report revealed that they used drugs to help them to cope or calm down, or that they suffered an addiction.
Alcohol is consumed on a regular basis by a majority of members in the entertainment industry. Other than as a result of mental illness, alcohol is easily accessed and considered part of the general culture, often as a result of peer pressure. An anonymous participant in the Entertainment Assist report commented that “people that come into the group usually are encouraged to drink more or smoke more or – it was just part of socializing and the nature of the whole thing”.
Marijuana use in the entertainment industry was found to be four times higher than that of the general public and was mainly used to calm down or increase creativity. In the case of methamphetamines, cocaine, and ecstasy, most users claimed that their reason for usage was to stay awake.
How many sufferers turn to suicide?
Between 1950-2010, the suicide rate of popular musicians was between two and seven times (varying from year to year) greater than the general USA population (Kenny 2014). From the Entertainment Assist’s findings, those in the entertainment industry are 4 to 5 times more likely to plan suicide and are twice as likely to make an attempt. Surprisingly, within the general Australian population men are twice as likely to commit suicide than women, yet in the entertainment industry, this divide was not seen. The Entertainment Assist report found that “both genders exhibited higher levels than the general population.”
What is being done to address the issues in the entertainment industry?
Cooper spoke to us at length about some of the most important recommendations. It was revealed from the report that a majority of the industry is tertiary educated, which gives Entertainment Assist a funnel of those entering the entertainment industry to focus on. Cooper urged that “we need to look at how can we actually develop a curriculum to get rolled out over all educational institutions.” The simplest method to combat the mental health problem in the entertainment industry is to inform people. Cooper went on to say that “we’ve got to learn to look after ourselves and learn that at the beginning and not when it’s too late.”
Cooper enthused that “industry specific training is already happening and we’re seeing some great results,” but the battle is far from over. Beyond what Entertainment Assist‘s report revealed, Cooper noted the importance of making sure that their recommendations are actually working – “That’s really important so that we know what we’re doing is actually evidence based.”
What else needs to be done?
Entertainment Assist put together a list of recommendations to address the issues found in their report, and are summarised below.
- Social support networks within the industry must be built, as well as the strengthening of existing networks
- Workplaces have been described as toxic and competitive with ignored instances of bullying, sexism, racism and assault. The culture of the industry needs to change and existing issues must be addressed and dealt with adequately and seriously
- The entertainment industry requires tailored psychological and psychiatric services that are easily accessible and run by people who understand the circumstances and demands of entertainment industry professionals
- The passion and creativity of those within the entertainment industry must be supported and nurtured
- The stigma of drug and alcohol use and addiction must be overcome, with support, treatment, and rehabilitation being made a priority
- Early intervention and prevention plans must be implemented for those displaying suicidal behaviour
- Education for those entering the industry that identifies the negatives of the industry, what resources are available to them, and other self-protective strategies
For further information, data, and specifics check out the full report HERE.
If you have been affected by this article, please refer to the following resources as provided by Entertainment Assist: