Fay, bipolar, a former stand-up comedian and currently the Deputy Commissioner of NSW Mental Health, described a story that the artists, producers, stage managers, lighting technicians and marketers at this week’s summit know well. Titled How Can the Show Go On?, the day of keynotes, workshops and pro bono medical services was held by Theatre Network NSW as a response to 2016 research that revealed the high rates of mental illness and suicide for works in the Australian entertainment industry.
Entertainment Assist, the not-for-profit that spearheaded this research, opened the event with some sobering numbers: 25% of performing artists and roadies have attempted or considered suicide, but none of the crews sought help; over a third of performing artists, 25% of industry support workers and most roadies and crew reported mental health problems.
“People in the entertainment industry are suffering but they don’t know how or where to seek help,” said Susan Cooper, an actress, television producer and general manager of Entertainment Assist.
“We’re really good at hiding things. It’s ingrained in our industry,” she said. “And whether we’re in the front in the lights or if we’re [behind the scenes] wearing a black t-shirt, we’re absolutely passionate about what we do...it’s what drives us, it’s what we get up in the morning for.
The consensus was clear – as artists, screenwriters, and stage managers, arts industry professionals were moving more than numbers. The process of creativity was emotionally heavy.
“We are all the most passionate, creative, sensitive people in the most cutthroat industry there is. Naturally, there are going to be problems.”
Prior to her organisation’s research, Cooper and her colleagues saw that people knew the reality of mental illness in their industry, but had no stats to back it up. The report touches on other factors debilitating to a healthy life: 44% workers in performing arts production report not getting enough sleep. 57.9% have difficult finding time with their families, and 63% struggle to lead a fulfilling social life.
“We want to help each other, but we just don’t know how.”