Behind the Scenes: Mental Health & The Entertainment Industry

By Jennifer Leff, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, in New York, NY 

No doubt, the pandemic has impacted most industries. However, the entertainment industry was the first to shut down and will be the last to fully re-open. Entertainment industry workers, specifically those behind the scenes, have long experienced mental health challenges and stereotypically, haven’t easily accessed services. The pandemic has only further shed a light on individuals in the entertainment industry, and with this, a strong call for mental health professionals who are equipped to provide support and tailor their clinical practices for those working behind the scenes.

The Need

According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health), one in five adults will experience or has experienced a mental health struggle. In 2019, this individual represented 19.1% of U.S. adults – that is to say about 47.6 million living with a mental illness. Now, triple that number. Individuals working in the entertainment industry — actors, musicians, stage production, roadies — those in front of and behind the set/stage — are approximately three times more likely to struggle with mental health challenges. Moreover, there is a disproportionate struggle with substance misuse in this population. While Arts and Entertainment can transcend emotions and benefit our well-being, it’s somewhat ironic that production and tech workers — the ones we don’t see — are, in fact, suffering. Behind the Scenes, a nonprofit foundation that provides support to entertainment technology professionals, created the Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Initiative to support entertainment industry workers and promote mental health and psychological safety.

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The Unique Pressures of Technical Workers

The rigors and unique stressors of entertainment industry work have a negative impact on well-being and mental health. Common industry threads include financial instability, irregular hours, transient work and its impact on relationships, and lack of permanency. Bullying, harassment, and intimidation can occur, and leaders often don’t know how to provide support. This can make people even more vulnerable. It’s also not uncommon for those working in the entertainment industry to lack insurance that covers behavioral health costs.

We Need Therapists Who Get It

It is vitally important to have a cadre of therapists who are familiar with the industry, cognizant of how anxiety, depression, and PTSD are triggered in these workplaces, and willing to adjust their practices to meet the needs of this population (for example, by incorporating sliding scales). Behind the Scenes is passionate about helping industry workers and their families access support and find mental health professionals who get it — and we’re excited to partner with GoodTherapy to help make those connections.

The old adage “the show must go on” is exactly that — old. The show can’t go on if a show’s production — sound, lighting, costume design, and more —  comes to a halt. We’ve seen an uptick in the entertainment industry talking about mental health and wellness; the pandemic has further fueled this discussion. If we continue this conversation and this cultural shift in the way we view mental health, the show can go on in a way that is healthy and sustainable for all.

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Mental Health Trumps Reputation

If you go behind the scenes, “reputation” is ubiquitous. Industry workers don’t want to jeopardize their reputation or perceived reliability should they take time off or admit to needing support. It’s okay to not be okay, and it’s human to need help.

Let’s not wait for Suicide Prevention Week or Mental Health Month to highlight mental health or encourage permission to address mental health needs. Check in with friends and colleagues. Next time you’re watching TV, enjoying a music festival, or sitting in a theater audience, think of the rigger or the lighting tech and recognize their work and challenges. If you’re in the industry, know you’re not alone. Support is available for you.

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