Not so entertaining after all?

Apr 04, 2016

A recent study has debunked the myth of the ‘tortured artist’, drawing a clear correlation between the high prevalence of mental health conditions in creative fields and the unstable, stressful working conditions that have become the industry norm.

The report by Victoria University, Working in the Entertainment Industry, found that people working in the arts experienced psychological distress, mental health conditions and suicidal thoughts at alarming rates. Arts sector employees are ten times more likely than the general population to experience symptoms of anxiety, for example, and five times more likely when it comes to depression. Getting a good night’s sleep is also less likely, with three times the number of people tossing and turning with sleep disorders when compared to the wider community.

But where in the past these statistics might have been brushed off as misunderstood creative genius or preexisting conditions, the report places the blame squarely with the insecure, high-stress working conditions that are commonplace in the industry.

Lack of security, autonomy and control

Participants reported uncertain employment, low pay, shift work and the need to be willing and able to work at all times and under all conditions. 

“Conditions in the entertainment industry actively undermine workers’ autonomy and security and contribute to very poor mental outcomes,” says arts employee Jennifer Andersen, writing for The Conversation.

She points to the mismatch between the massive contribution the arts sector makes to our economy and community, and the financial and emotional burden that workers take on when they’re either underpaid or expected to work for free.

“It is difficult for people to maintain a healthy sense of self when they are consistently told their labour and skills are worth, quite literally, nothing.”

Enter stage left: better working conditions

Of course, insecure working conditions, low pay and shift work aren’t restricted to creative fields, and the effect on employees is exactly the same. Creating a mentally healthy workplace means looking at the structural issues – how tasks and deadlines are set up and the pressures placed on workers – as well as ensuring a positive environment where everyone feels ok about asking for support.

Developing a Heads Up action plan is a really useful process – it gets you thinking about issues that are causing stress, such as long hours, shift work and demanding workloads, and provides you with suggestions and resources.

If you’re not sure where to begin, our Getting started kit can help you take that first step.   

Related news: Designing workplaces for better mental health

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