In the world of entertainment, practitioners come to expect extreme stress, long hours, pressures, and personal conflicts. But how do these conditions impact our well-being as well as our job performance? In multiple industry groups, personal wellness and emotional wellness have become major areas of conversation as industry practitioners ask for changes.
In response to these voices, the Behind the Scenes Foundation (BTS), a non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization for the entertainment technology industry, set out to address these issues in a practical way. The BTS Mental Health Survey was developed to collect information to properly plan how to answer these needs. During its initial release, the survey reached almost 3500 individuals who self-identified as part of the entertainment industry. The study was conducted prior to the onset of COVID-19, so it is likely that many of the significant factors identified have only increased since that time.
While the responses supported the voices from many conference panels and online discussions, it provided more information about the severity of impact of these known challenges. When asked about the significant stressors in work life, 78% of almost 3500 respondents identified fatigue as the primary source. With the extended schedules in many of these roles, this data supported perception of the effects of these demands.
The majority of respondents also reported feelings of anxiety (91%) and depression (82%). These feelings are often expressed at the end of show runs, or in the cycle between jobs. The highly cyclical nature of entertainment often means periods of under-employment or un-employment even before COVID closed the majority of the industry in March of 2020.
A remarkable data point in the survey was the prevalence of thoughts of suicide within the sample. The CDC reports suicidal ideation among the US population at roughly 10% even during the pandemic (Czeisler et al, 2020), however the BTS survey unveiled that 44% of the survey population experience thoughts of suicide. While not necessarily connected, this number was slightly higher than reported alcohol or substance misuse.
Suicide is listed as the 10th leading cause of death in the United States ( Stone et al, 2021). These numbers are even higher in the industry category of “Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media.” Research shows this category within the 3 most impacted industries related to suicide statistics (Peterson et al, 2020). In Canada, suicide is listed as the 9th leading cause of death (Statistics Canada). Women in Canada in the category of “Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media” have the highest rate of suicide of any occupation (Peterson et al., 2018).
With these statistics in mind, it is clearly important to address the severity of suicide in the community. Conversations around mental and emotional wellness are often difficult ones to begin, the issue has been stigmatized for so many years that it is a challenge to break the cycle. This survey supported this issue, showing stigma as a significant barrier in 67% of responses.
The survey reflected this, but positively shows progress with the majority of respondents (67%) falling in the categories of moderate, to extreme comfort in initiating conversations around emotional wellness. This willingness has led to more industry content around emotional wellness, which has only grown during the COVID shutdowns. This awareness is also positively reflected in the number of respondents who reported receiving emotional wellness treatment or support (59%). This shows a trend that is higher than the national averages listed by the National Institute of Mental Health of those who have received some level of mental health services (44%) and shows an industry starting to be willing to release the stigma of conversation and seeking treatment that traditionally surrounds these issues (Mental illness, 2021).
With this increase in interest, the availability of assistance, through established programs or one’s own community is the best line of defense when it comes to emotional and mental wellness. According to the survey, this is another area where the industry is showing progress with 68% reporting an awareness of, and access to support programs. This is a significant finding, as research shows a relationship between a lack of access and negative outcomes (Ku et al, 2021). Among those who did not feel as if they had access, they overwhelmingly agreed that this access would be helpful to improve the environment for themselves and others. The key barrier to this access respondents identified (74%) was the cost of treatment.
With the initial findings of the survey available, the Behind the Scenes Foundation stepped into action to develop tools and resources to address these needs, such as:
These tools and resources were developed by industry experts, including representatives of labor and employers, and mental health and health & safety professionals to directly address the specific needs in the entertainment industry.
These tools address many of the issues raised by the respondents of the survey, who represented a broad spectrum of the industry, and a wide variety of age and experience level. The majority of respondents identified with Live Events as their primary area of work (including theatre, dance, music, opera, touring, circus, sports, theme parks, etc.) followed by those involved in Motion Picture and Television Production.
While the population reached was broad in industry scope and experience, further research on this topic is needed to better identify the specific needs prevalent in the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities, as the survey reflected the current prevalence of white males and females in the arts field. The Behind the Scenes Foundation is continuing to collect information, and work with other industry partners to increase the awareness of these issues in the field and provide resources to address them.
The Behind the Scenes Foundation would like to thank all who participated in this survey, which will continue to collect data in the industry to better address needs and improve the lives of those in the arts.
More information on the BTS Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Initiative, and these resources can be found at btshelp.org/mentalhealth.
© 2021 Behind the Scenes Foundation
Czeisler MÉ , Lane RI, Petrosky E, et al. Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1049–1057. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6932a1external icon.
Ku, B. S., Li, J., Cathy Lally, Compton, M. T., & Druss, B. G. (2021). Associations between mental health shortage areas and county-level suicide rates among adults aged 25 and older in the USA, 2010 to 2018. General Hospital Psychiatry, 70, 44–50. doi: 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2021.02.001
Mental illness. (2021, January). Retrieved March 17, 2021, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml
Peterson, C., Sussell, A., Jia Li, Schumacher, P. K., Yeoman, K., Stone, D. M., & Li, J. (2020). Suicide Rates by Industry and Occupation – National Violent Death Reporting System, 32 States, 2016. MMWR: Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, 69(3), 57–62. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6903a1
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Stone, D. M., Jones, C. M., & Mack, K. A. (2021). Changes in Suicide Rates — United States, 2018-2019. MMWR: Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, 70(8), 261–268.
Statistics Canada. Table 13-10-0394-01 Leading causes of death, total population, by age group.