I am often asked this question, especially after events such as last weeks, with two significant public figures taking their lives...
“What are your thoughts on the increasing suicides in the entertainment industry”? Such a large question to try and hypothesize or encapsulate the possible inner workings and motivations of those in entertainment who end their lives, but here's my thoughts... I do not pretend to know the details of each individuals mental health status or attempt to place blame here or there. What I am familiar with is the unique pressures and often overwhelming demands of the entertainment industry lifestyle. The impact this can have on mental health or amplify pre-existing struggles with mental health. The complexities with managing a personal life or family life. The stigma associated with seeking help or fears of this negatively impacting your career. The desire to feel “normal” in a world that changes its societal “norms” every decade. The difficulty seeking refuge in hard times when everyday life becomes a public affair. (And this one doesn’t just apply to celebrities, most of us hold a platform on social media, placing our lives on display to the public or at least our communities.)
When there are patterns in a system, we are driven to find a common denominator. So what do I believe is the common contributor to the mental health epidemic in the entertainment industry? Insufficient resources dedicated to researching broken systems on all levels within the industry. Established entertainers are beginning to step out into the light addressing misconceptions (stigma) with mental health and bringing more awareness, but is it enough? There needs to be a collective agreement in the entertainment industry to better understand and address struggles related to mental health. Placing more value on individual wellness above "the show must go on". Can the show wait ten minutes because Joe the lighting guy just found out his wife has cancer and he's 2,000 miles away from her? Maybe not, but is there someone available for him to work through it all with after the show? Should the industry enforce more mental health days or make it common practice to seek council annually? Perhaps re-evaluating the supply and demand factors in the entertainment industry. In order to find these answers, we need greater recognition in the importance of mental health and individuals willing to continue advocating change in the industry.
So how important is mental health?...
Data shows 2.2 % of deaths per year due to the flu (around 57,062 people)(DHHS publication 2017-1232). So we have annual flue shots (many places offer free flu shots) and medical researchers dedicated to reducing these rates. People generally see the value in preventing getting the flu and seeking treatment if you do. Employers see the value. Parents see the value. Message is clear, don’t get the flu! Seek immediate treatment if you get the flu!
1.7% of deaths per year due to suicide, around 44,193 people per year... (DHHS publication 2017-1232)
I am hopeful that we are beginning to see the value in mental wellness and there is not always quick fix. However, it needs to start with “we have a problem”... not waiting for another tragic loss to make mental health a table topic again.
So ask yourself, "is it worth it" to reform how we look at mental health and factors contributing to this rise in depression and suicide? If the answer is yes, then lets start with a simple conversation. Reach out to someone today who you think may be struggling or open up to someone about your own struggles. Let's make it ok to talk about mental health!
Helpful articles for Recognizing Signs of Depression/Suicidal Risk: