Anxiety in the Arts…

Recently, I interviewed Ben Steel about his documentary The Show Must Go On. An actor who has struggled with severe depression, Ben decided to interview people across the entertainment industry to find out how widespread and serious the problem is. You can find the story on our website. 

The Show Must Go On screened on ABC-TV last month during Mental Health Week and is available via ABC iview. It’s a raw, moving and salutary documentary which made it clear that although the industry is increasingly aware of the problem and is putting measures in place to try to address it, there’s still a long way to go.

Interviewing performers Sam Neill, Michala Banas and Dean Ray, ballerina Benedicte Bemet, and screenwriter/film director Jocelyn Moorhouse, among many others, Ben put faces to the statistics  – and the statistics paint a dark picture. As research conducted in 2016 by Victoria University showed, 44 percent of workers in the entertainment industry have symptoms of moderate anxiety, which is 10 times the national average, while 15 percent have moderate to severe symptoms of depression. There are five attempts at suicide every week in an industry where 65 percent of all workers earn below the average wage. The documentary explored the many reasons why depression and anxiety are so rampant. Many of these things can’t be changed, but we can certainly increase awareness of the problem, improve the way we work with each other, and find better ways to support people who are struggling.

Efforts are being made. In July this year, for example, Arts Centre Melbourne’s Wellness Collective launched a new 24/7 wellbeing hotline for performing arts practitioners as part of a suite of mental health and wellbeing initiatives. Regular Limelight columnist Greta Bradman is a contributor to the Arts Wellbeing Collective. As well as being a much-loved soprano, Greta is also a registered psychologist and will address issues surrounding mental health in the arts for us on an ongoing basis.

It can’t have been easy for Ben Steel to make The Show Must Go On, but it has elicited a strong response from other people in the industry who are struggling. Talking together is a good place to start.

Jo Litson

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