Re. Michael Simkins’ Guardian blog
*Updated – I’ve read over this again and have made a couple of additions where I’ve thought about things a bit more, or where I thought perhaps I wasn’t as clear as I wanted to be. I’ve italicised the amendments, in case you want to follow my train of thought as it has developed*
Firstly, I’d like to state that I might a) change this or b) delete it completely at some point. This is a pretty immediate reaction to a blog and, subsequently, there are certain parts of this I feel uncomfortable about writing for personal reasons, but I’ll post it now because I think it’s relevant and important at the present time.
The Guardian blog by Michael Simkins about the relationship between depression and acting – following on from Paul Bhattacharjee and Corey Monteith’s death – has irritated me a little. I write this somewhat reluctantly due to the nature of what’s being discussed – and want to keep it brief – but feel it’s worth putting this out there due to the circumstances.
Firstly, I want to make clear that I’m not really going to talk about Paul Bhattacharjee and Corey Monteith’s deaths as I think it’s a bit of a red herring – it’s speculative to try and understand the reasons for them taking the actions they did, and out of respect to their friends, family and loved ones I’d rather not use their deaths as tentative link to make a broader point.
*The use of the two deaths as a link to a fairly vague piece about how depression is rubbish is the main thing which annoyed me when I first read this piece. I don’t feel Simkins really sheds any great light on depression and mental health problems beyond a few general comments on how difficult the industry is, and I subsequently don’t think this really helps us to understand better what happened with Paul Bhattacharjee in particular. I don’t get the feeling that there is any great need to understand why these deaths happened from Simkins, and it makes me feel that their names and their deaths have been invoked to discuss how difficult the industry is, rather than how terrible depression is.
This all being said, I do appreciate that this piece has at least generated a lot of discussion. In some regards, if it had been a perfect piece of writing which really shed some light on depression then it may well have just become one of those many blogs/articles which people share without really commenting on them, and which get forgotten about within a week. Raising the issue of depression – in any industry or field – is important if spoken about in at least appreciative terms, and on an emotional and/or intellectual level.
I’ve suffered depression during my adult life, whilst working in the arts. From my experiences, I’ve been fortunate to have employers, colleagues and friends who I’ve felt comfortable enough to confide in who have been supportive and understanding of what I’m going through. These people never patronised me, didn’t try to categorise my situation as though the same as for others with similar circumstances and, most importantly, made me feel comfortable enough to talk about what I was going through without feeling I was being judged.
I know a number of people who’ve also suffered depression in some form, and they’ve had varying experiences with how people have reacted to it; some have had great support, whereas others have faced huge problems. Some I know have faced such problems from employers who have either not had the understanding or willingness to support someone through this that their problems have been exacerbated, or their employers have quite simply done everything they can to get rid of ‘the problem’.
My biggest concern with the Guardian blog is that it’s pretty reductive. It uses the tragic death of one person in particular to make fairly sweeping generalisations about a condition which is different for each person, and also makes an implication that one section of a quite narrow industry is both more prone to these problems and doesn’t know how to deal with them. It suggests that acting is a particularly difficult profession as there is a lack of job security, and there are factors such as your looks which can determine your level of success and, subsequently, your mental health. But won’t there similarly be factors like this related to all lines of work? You can’t make such generalisations about this, in my eyes, as each case will be different depending on the person – the simple fact of the matter is that both mental health problems and how we as a society deal with them are something we’re not good at discussing across the board, and not just in the arts.
*I’ve thought about this a bit more, and I think I’ve really pinpointed what one of my biggest issues is. Michael Simkins points out a lot of the negative sides of acting/the industry, which I think are perfectly valid; however, it feels like the suggestion is too strong that it is THESE THINGS which causes actors to become depressed. I don’t believe you can define the causes of depression this simply, at least from my experience anyway – and I also don’t equate struggling in your career with clinical, diagnosed depression. In all honesty, I’ve faced problems lately regarding finding work/questioning my career choice etc, but I’ve not been ‘depressed’ like when I’ve been treated or what-not – there’s a HUGE difference between being frustrated about work etc with having a complete detachment from the world, a sense that you are worthless and an irritant to those around you, and often just an emotional numbness. Subsequently, I worry that confusing going through some tough times with full-blown depression could potentially make it even harder for those with a real medical need to be heard.
The chances are some of you may not agree with me, and may think the Guardian blog is a great piece; that’s fine. I have no real issue with that, and my concerns about the piece are not doubt connected to my understanding and my experiences of these problems. You may think my opinions are a load of crap, and that’s fine with me too – I’d never claim to have any kind of authoritative knowledge about this just because I sometimes get a bit mopey.
In some regards, it may be that my tendency to make light of my own problems is reflective of how bad we can be about discussing these things. One thing I would hope might come from the Guardian blog, though, is that we can at least start to get depression out in the open – regardless of our careers and industry. It’s a problem many of us have to face, and to me at least it felt at times like it was a taboo I couldn’t broach with people; at times I probably suffered in silence, because I was led to believe that people didn’t want to talk about my problems and that the support network wasn’t really there. Fortunately, I learned in time that wasn’t completely the case.
*I’m glad that people have been talking about this since the Guardian blog surfaced. Even where people have disagreed with what’s been written on various platforms, they do so with the best of intentions and seemingly with a desire to make the issue less taboo. But this is obviously an issue which is ‘current’ – and I have to question whether or not the discussion will continue as time passes. It’s all too often too late before people realise just how tough someone has had it when it comes to mental health problems, as many of us who suffer can be either really good at covering it and putting a brave face on or will just withdraw completely from the real world. I’ve done both – it’s much easier to avoid talking about things by either trying to force a smile or by simply drawing the curtains and blocking the world out, as it lets you run away from your problems without having to deal with them. If we can cultivate a sense within the industry that we can be open about these issues, and that we can support each other, then maybe those suffering will find it just a little bit easier to let people know when they need a bit of support.
So if you’re really feeling moved, inspired or angered by the piece, I have a simple request to make – talk about it. If we can start talking about mental health problems more openly, then hopefully we can start to change the perception that those suffering can’t talk openly about it.
*Just wanted to throw in a couple of links:
Chris Tester has posted a really good blog about his experiences with depression as an actor – which I feel does much more to help understand the possible effects of the industry on those inclined to depression (‘the effects’ ringing much more true to me than being simply calling the industry ‘the cause’).
This is my favourite piece of writing about someone’s experience of depression I’ve found – it resonates with my own experiences, plus it’s approached in quite a funny way. And I’m also a fan of cartoons.