Depression at Work in the Entertainment Industry & Why Everybody Hurts
“Its been difficult for me to find the words to what I’m about to share with you because I feel ashamed. Ashamed to be a leader and hero to so many while admitting I’ve been living a lie.” -Kid Cudi
On October 4, 2016, this heartfelt confession was merely the beginning of a painfully honest truth that 32 year old rapper Scott Mescudi aka “Kid Cudi” shared with millions of his fans on his Facebook page.
With each word, his life at that very moment, in real time, began to take on the shape of an emotional puzzle whose pieces fit together to create a startling picture of someone losing their battle with despair.
His words were stark and startling.
Why was he ashamed? What admission was he referring to? And what was the lie he confessed to have been living?
As he continued to write, the puzzle came into clear view.
“Yesterday I checked myself into rehab for depression and suicidal urges. I am not at peace.”
Kid Cudi had revealed his battle with drugs and depression earlier in the year. He had publicly cried out for help to fellow rappers, personal friends, and even his fans.
But on October 4th, the stakes were raised when he wrote five words that every person battling depression can identify with: “I am not at peace.”
Sadly, it is a familiar battle cry for help.
Earlier this summer, Kristen Bell shared that she too had been struggling with depression and anxiety. She encouraged others facing this potentially debilitating disorder to get help.
Like Cudi, Bell laid bare her innermost feelings in an attempt to grab the hand of someone spiraling into what can sometimes feel like a bottomless pit. “It’s important for me to be candid about this so people in a similar situation can realize that they are not worthless and that they do have something to offer,” stated Bell.
She’s right. We all have something to offer this world. But still, so many individuals – and an alarming increase of young people – just feel alone.
Why? Because depression is private and silent and its sole purpose is to keep others at bay, while it burrows deeper and deeper into its victim’s psyche, leading one so far from hope and truth, until ultimately – there is just no coming back.
You see, depression doesn’t take hold overnight.
No, it’s far more sinister, like an elusive, silent enemy that lurks and circles its victims day in and day out causing pain and suffering that is nearly indescribable to the outside world.
Depression manifests for months or even years before it bleeds outward, and only then, do others see that there is a “problem”.
If that’s what we mean by missing the “early” warning signs, then it’s no wonder so many fall victim to the grip of depression at work, at home, and in their daily lives.
Some of those “warning signs” are missed, especially by those who work in high-stress, emotionally-consuming professions that can potentially push you to the point of anxiety and depression.
A few that come to mind are: parents, doctors, police officers, students, teachers and those who work in production.
Because of its unique nature, fast-turn-around and last-minute scheduling, production may require working long, grueling hours, sometimes surpassing 12, 18, or even 24 hour shifts. It’s been reported that some productions have made individuals work through meal breaks or even risk their employee’s physical safety with outlandish requests in the name of ratings. Compound that with depression or anxiety, and it’s a recipe for failure that could lead to an unhealthy outcome. It’s no secret that some productions discourage employees from taking off work for any type of health reasons, short of an actual emergency that may result in hospitalization.
When we watch our favorite television shows or movies, we often idolize the sheer talent that commands the screen. But like any Hollywood role, depression, especially depression at work, is a chameleon, it has many faces, and it can hit anyone and at anytime.
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The Many Faces of Depression
“My anxiety and depression have ruled my life for as long as I can remember…” -Kid Cudi
Kid Cudi and Kristen Bell give disturbing context to this mental and emotional torment, but they’re not the only ones.
Superstars Chris Evans, Kerry Washington, Eminem, Dwayne Johnson, Pete Wentz, Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, and Demi Lovato have also revealed that they have (and in some cases, still do) experienced anxiety and depression.
By publicizing their own personal battle with mental health, they have helped bring much needed national awareness to this issue, which only goes to show how tired yet brave such stars are in giving a voice to the voiceless.
It was no surprise to find out that 40 million adults in the U.S. age 18 and older, or 18% of the population, suffer from some type of anxiety disorder. This, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, is the most common mental illness this country is facing.
Sometimes, mental illness can be a tug-of-war that can pull its victim into an abyss from which there is no escape.
I still can’t fathom that Robin Williams hung himself and slashed his own wrists.
On August 11, 2014, the Oscar-winning actor and legendary comedian took his own life after a valiant, hard-fought 40-year battle with depression and anxiety.
Over the years, Williams had self-medicated, taken prescription drugs, and also attempted to cope by using his remarkable gift to make millions laugh and feel the internal joy that, sadly, seemed to elude him. He once said, “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what’s it’s like to feel absolutely worthless…” To us, and his legions of fans around the world, he was priceless.
I didn’t know Robin Williams, but I felt like I did because for as long as I can remember, his TV and film work have made me and my family laugh. As a kid, one of my older sisters would walk through the house greeting everyone by saying, “Nanu Nanu”. This was the alien-from-outer-space greeting based on Robin Williams’ character “Mork” from the sitcom Mork & Mindy.
When Robin died, his passing once again opened my eyes to those “early warning” signs that we all need to heed.
Coming Face to Face with the Silent Enemy of Depression
I’ve worked in Hollywood for over twenty years; and I can tell you firsthand that I’ve seen many former colleagues battle depression at work.
That’s why I felt the urgency to write this blog.
This past Monday, October 10th was World Mental Health Day. The purpose of this day is to “normalize” the conversation of mental health, in the same way that illnesses such as diabetes or dementia currently are.
Depression is misunderstood; and it is stigmatized. It can sometimes be misdiagnosed (by friends and medical professionals) as a “passing phase” of melancholy, general sadness or a case of the “blahs” or “blues”.
The stakes are too high to ignore the warning signs. People die everyday because of it.
I just never knew that someone could “make peace” with their own life by speaking so-matter-of-factly about their own planned, death.
Several years ago, a dear friend of mine was working on a high profile cable show. He told me about one of his co-workers, a talented writer who suffered with mental illness. This writer suffered with clinical depression.
For the rest of the season, she turned in her scripts for the show and worked alongside my friend, also a talented writer, to meet strenuous deadlines that everyone in production can identify with.
When my friend’s show wrapped for the summer, we had lunch and I brought up his co-worker who suffered with mental health issues. He kind of hesitated and broke the quietness with a somber response, “She didn’t make it.”
At first, I didn’t understand what he was trying to tell me and then it struck me like a bolt of lightning.
I kind of stammered, “You mean, she’s dead?”
He shook his head “yes” and then told me something that will haunt me for the rest of my life.
Before his co-worker killed herself, she had stopped by to visit him and several other staff members that she had worked with as well. She told each of them of her plans to end her life. They did what they could to help, but she had simply spiraled too deep into the well of her manic depression to hear their voices calling out to her.
On numerous occasions, she had told her co-workers, including my friend that she was going to kill herself, until one day, she succeeded.
Her death taught me an important life lesson. I learned that everyday is another opportunity to celebrate and honor my own life. Here’s how you can too and these are a just a few proclamations to help you get started.
Be kind to YOU!
Learn to love YOU!
Accept the failures that YOU can’t control!
Surround yourself with people who respect YOU!
Fill your heart with so much laughter that YOU literally find strength in joy!
Realize that YOU are the best thing that ever happened to YOU!
Think of it like this. You are the unique, beautiful, and only “you” in your family’s lives, in your friendship circles, and on your job. They need “you” and you deserve to be reminded of just how amazing you are. And no matter what challenges or chaos is thrown before you, always remember that your life matters and it has immeasurable value.
Paraphrasing Charles Dickens in David Copperfield…learn how to “be the hero of your own life.”
If you’re suffering with depression or anxiety, first and foremost, you are not in this by yourself. I know it’s hard. I know it can be frightening. But you’ve got to reach deep within yourself and fight the silent enemy. Your voice is your biggest and most lethal weapon against depression. Talking about your illness to a therapist, as well as your support network of family and friends, is crucial to your recovery.
Acknowledgment is the first step and pinpointing possible on-the-job stressors is the next.
Identifying Job-Related Depression & Stressors
“Im scared, Im sad, I feel like I let a lot of people down and again, Im sorry. Its time I fix me.” -Kid Cudi
Kid Cudi’s Facebook post gave us an intimate and up-close view into the utter emotional and psychological hell that he had been dealing with most of his life. And like many people, Cudi continued to go to work while wrestling with mental illness.
Often, people with mental health problems continue to work all types of jobs and simply push past the war raging in their minds. That’s what Kid Cudi did. In the midst of his own personal trials, he still managed to write, produce and perform hit music; while also fending off thoughts of suicide.
Stop and think about that for a moment, and then ask yourself, does this sound like me?
He continued working through his pain because he didn’t want to fail at his job and “let a lot of people down”.
Thankfully, before he reached his tipping point, he identified his stressors and got the help he needed.
I’m sure that a lot of you can identify with ignoring the difficulty of your own personal trials and powering through.
How many times have you gone to work in spite of a migraine or severe cold? How often have you felt like calling off sick, but changed your mind and went on to work with a sprained ankle or pulled back muscle? These examples are extreme, but some people really do go to work when they’re very ill and for various reasons.
Some are afraid of losing their jobs; while others, simply don’t realize how unwell they really are. When it comes to depression at work and anxiety, it’s important to know when it’s time to recalibrate physically and mentally.
Sometimes taking off just one (1) day can make a world of difference.
It’s imperative that you learn to identify your “triggers” or external stressors that can cause you to respond in an emotionally negative way. For instance, you might not realize it, but working extremely long hours, being dehydrated, not eating on a regular schedule, facing stringent deadlines, or attempting to cope in toxic work or home environments can become triggers if not monitored properly.
You know your body best, so listen to it when it’s begging you to slow down and get some much-needed rest.
Managing Depression At Work
I’ve worked many types of jobs in my lifetime from a legal secretary and personal assistant to my current profession as a company owner and television writer and producer. So, having a production job that you enjoy is wonderful because it satisfies both the need for creative stimulation and the ability to pay your bills.
However, when you compound despair with the sometimes-arduous demands of production, you will quickly see how it becomes easy to exploit this very real weakness.
In order to maintain peak mental health, it is imperative that you set boundaries, develop routines and utilize tools that will help any professional stay centered, feel secure and in control.
Here’s how to better manage depression at work:
- Designate a friend, family member, or co-worker that you can talk to when you start to feel overwhelmed
- Check with your job to see if they offer free mental health counseling; if so, create a therapy schedule that works best for you
- Write in a journal each day and use it as an additional way to manage your thoughts and feelings
- Take each break offered on your job and use those short intervals of time to take a relaxing walk, pray, meditate, or read a passage from your favorite book
- Don’t skip lunch and when at all possible, eat your lunch with friends and co-workers that make you laugh and feel good about yourself
- Connect with social groups outside of work that promote healthy living, eating and entertainment
- Limit your time on social media sites (especially during work hours) that might trigger stress or anxiety
- Make exercise a priority and incorporate at least 30 minutes of physical activity — walking, jogging, or dancing — each day
- Don’t offer to take on more work than you can actually handle; and if you need help with your assigned tasks, ask for it before you become overwhelmed
- Examine and catalog what actually heightens your stress levels and if the culprit is work, certain friends, a relationship, or particular habits, then immediately speak with your therapist about the best route to take to make those necessary changes
The last point is crucial because when dealing with work-related stressors, one of the biggest factors for not seeking help is intimidation.
Breaking Free of Work-Related Intimidation
“I deserve to have peace. I deserve to be happy and smiling. Why not me? I guess I give so much of myself to others I forgot that I need to show myself some love too.” -Kid Cudi
This statement couldn’t be truer and when Kid Cudi wrote it; he was in the process of checking himself into a mental health and drug rehab facility.
The music industry provides Cudi with a good portion of his triggers. For some of you reading this blog, your stressors may come from working in film and TV production; which can be just as challenging from unrealistic expectations and disproportionate wages to toxic work environments that can chip away at your emotional resolve and actually make you question your own talent.
This revolving door of emotional abuse can take a heavy toll on anyone.
As I wrote this blog, I found myself dredging up many painful memories of stories that so many have disclosed to me. However, there’s one that I must share with you, because in one boy’s darkness, he was able to rediscover his own inner-light.
Exposing The Enemy & Taking Back Your Life
I’ve told you of the destructive path that depression and anxiety brings into the lives of millions of people; and sometimes for years on end. It causes sleepless nights, anxiety, inability to focus, unshakable sadness, muscle fatigue, feelings of despair, and thoughts of suicide.
This “silent enemy” can be defeated, but first, we must take you to the bottom of the deep, dark hole of depression. This nearly inescapable place almost consumed someone very close to the heart of our own company. His name is Adam, and he’s a dear friend of Nick Ramos, our CEO and Co-Founder.
Adam had suffered with mental health issues since he was in his early teens and contended with many of the symptoms that we’ve mentioned, including suicidal tendencies. His loving family and devoted friends surrounded him like angels’ wings and prayed for, loved on, and supported him through days that he may not have made it – alone.
He also sought professional help and was fortunate to find a compassionate therapist who helped him manage and control his own thoughts and fears in order to overcome depression.
In 2012, Adam published a powerful essay that in brutally honesty detail, told the inner torment he suffered after years of battling, what he calls, “The Enemy”.
This is how Adam described his dark adversary:
The enemy is neither seen nor heard. His location is unknown, and his reasons are beyond understanding. He is the one that is accountable for all the unbearable times, the sleepless nights, the hopeless days, and the countless number of hurt friends and families.
He hides in the darkest of shadows and only reveals his presence in the most miserable of times. With the ability to destroy days, friendships, relationships, families, and lives, he waits. Why he does these things is unknown. Why he decides to claim power over innocent minds and bring a man to his saddest of times is beyond thought.
He is not a physical enemy, nor one that a man can fight with his hands. He is the one who hides inside the mind where only the strong can defeat him. He knows of ways to twist a man’s mind, to bend it in such ways that makes life seem impossible, hopeless, or unfeasible. He will do anything to win, to achieve power over a man’s mind and body.
Though he is unseen, unheard, and invisible, he does have a weakness: knowledge.
The power to talk to loved ones and express feelings will cause him to lose. As easy as it seems, he has ways of stopping his host causing them to sit and stare at nothing. Their minds lost and hopes destroyed, they feel unable to talk. The enemy knows that it’s his true weakness, and he fights to hide it. This villainous enemy is known as depression.
A man’s will to be happy, to love, to sleep, and to live will destroy depression. Depression, a suitable foe of many people, can be defeated, but the first step is to always talk. Once a man or woman talks and expresses his or her problem, the enemy doesn’t stand a chance. He will lose; he will fail, and the man or woman who chooses to fight back with knowledge and the power of words will win. Depression can be stopped, destroyed and fixed.
Adam slew the dragon of his despair, and it it our sincere hope that you too will also claim victory over its grasp.