Let’s Talk About Mental Health

There has been a lot of progress over the years on the discussion of mental health, but it’s still a taboo topic of conversations in many settings.

Many people go untreated and undiagnosed, which leads to further problems in their lives both on the personal and professional fronts. While more physical diseases like diabetes, MS, and cancer are acceptable conditions to discuss met with compassion, mental illness receives a far different reaction most of the time. Those with mental illnesses frequently receive the labels crazy and disturbed. 

Many local municipalities don’t offer suitable programs for people seeking help and those that do typically still fall short, putting many of the mentally ill back onto the street where they become part of a vicious cycle. Homelessness and substance abuse are just two of the detrimental outcomes of a mentally ill person receiving no support. I speculate that the reason it goes undiscussed is due to the stigma and thus the shame people feel about their diagnosis; however, it’s important to be open to discussing these topics if a problem is suspected. If you can relate in any way, keep reading, even if it’s not yourself, but someone you may know. In certain circumstances, understanding may help save someone’s life.  

Our business is unlike any other. We have hard deadlines to meet, long hours, often working late into the night with early morning return calls that leave less than 8 hours between shifts. The live events industry is not your typical 9-5 by any means. It’s 10-14+ hour days in nearly complete darkness, with no natural light, and surrounded by highly technical equipment.  

We have an intercom in one ear for directions from the producer, and in the other ear, we hear the person on stage reciting their script. We stare at bright screens while executing our position’s responsibilities flawlessly, or as close to flawlessly as we can. It’s dirty hands, and throbbing feet, cuts, and bruises from case latches left open. It’s sore backs and aching muscles from lifting equipment that is equal to our body weight. It’s one of the most dangerous environments in which someone could work, with the safety of our lives in the hands of people we sometimes don’t know. The work we do is both physically and mentally taxing.

Our business is also one that relies on reputation. We’ve learned as children not to worry what other people think of us. However, to make it in this industry you absolutely need to think about that. Being well liked, even if you’re not as experienced, means booking more gigs. You can teach the technical skills to just about anyone, but you can’t teach someone how to be likable. The constant comparison of ourselves to others leaves us beating ourselves up when we make a mistake or don’t get along with everyone on show

What if that one thing you said to someone comes back to bite you? With the constant change in coworkers around us, never knowing who you might work with next, and with how far reaching one person’s word can travel, we’re sometimes forced to put on a good face and hide how we are feeling. Along the same lines, with the constant change of personnel, we tend to never really know who we can trust. When you’re surrounded by a sea of people in a different place every day, it can get very lonely.

Speaking of lonely, have you ever been on the road? We all know that sometimes our clients request us for gigs that are out of town. Sure, the pay is usually better, and who doesn’t like per diem? Maybe you’re going to cities you haven’t been to before. And if you’re lucky, you get to visit new countries too. But being on the road comes with a price all its own.  

How many of you have families, or at the very least a spouse or a significant other? I don’t have either, partially due to working in this industry, but I do have a cat. I know that seems silly, she’s just a cat. But she’s attached to me, and we have our routines. Being away for long periods, especially if I must put her in boarding, affects her also. Traveling for work isn’t like going on a vacation. If you’re lucky enough to get downtime during your time away, you can see and do some cool things, eat local food or visit a local brewery, but not every show is like that. It’s no different than working in your city, except you don’t know what to expect from the local labor, and you don’t get to go home to your bed at night or to the people you love.

 Work schedules, especially when on the road, make it nearly impossible to make plans with your friends, and maintaining a work/life balance becomes very challenging, to say the least. You know that quote “all work and no play make Homer go something, something,” it’s true. Making time for your joys and hobbies is just as important as making time for gigs and making money so that you can do the things you enjoy.  

While we’re on the road, it’s not uncommon to live an unhealthy lifestyle. We eat what we can grab, or what the hotel is providing. Some think it’s a party, and relish in the freedom from family responsibility so they may drink too much. Into a daily exercise routine? What if your hotel doesn’t have a gym? Living an unhealthy lifestyle on or off the road doesn’t help you feel better mentally or physically.

I know it may sound like this is just a normal part of life these days, a regular part of this job, and the average person may be able to cope with these things and not be affected too terribly. But if you’re already struggling with a mental illness like depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, OCD, etc., especially if you don’t know it, these things exacerbate the symptoms. It’s not just about how the disorder makes you feel and behave; it’s also about how outside stressors affect it.

Too often, someone battling with an untreated mental illness may develop a substance abuse problem. At the base of it, substances help remove us from our reality, even if for only a short period. Substance abuse can be a coping mechanism, a way to self-medicate, that exacerbate the symptoms of underlying mental illnesses. When the substances wear off and their withdrawal effects set in, depression can spiral harder than it would already have on its own.

Talking is the first step and may save a life.

It saved mine.

I don’t even need to mention the damaging physiological impact. In some people, mental illness develops from abusing drugs, not the other way around. The parts of our brain that are used for coping, feeling, and balancing our emotions become damaged and lose the ability to balance our emotions or cope with stress. And of course, there are so many other factors to consider with how this affects our workplace, including safety.

Is it the responsibility of an HR manager to listen and refer someone for help? And how much of that knowledge will that HR manager keep on file for future reference? Is it even something that we should be helping with, from within the business? Or do you think it’s that person’s responsibility to deal with it on personal time? What if someone doesn’t have any family or the money to pay for treatment? What if their insurance doesn’t cover the help they need?  

Why do we attach a label to someone prematurely and wait until they hit rock bottom before trying to help? What if that rock bottom is the last thing they ever hit? I don’t have all the answers to these questions. If I did, I’d probably have a very different career. But they’re great points to think about because the people dealing with these types of illnesses are no different than you or me, they just need some support from somewhere. 

So, what do we do now? How do we break these cycles and remove the stigma, so people feel okay asking for help? We start by having a conversation and supporting those who need it. Evidence has shown time and time again that providing support services and just talking to someone can reduce self-harm and even suicide. It’s as simple as noticing abnormal behavior and picking up the phone or stopping by to check in on your friend, loved one, or colleague. 

If you or someone you care about is suffering from a mental illness or thinking about hurting themselves, don’t be afraid, you’re not alone. Call one of these numbers, reach out to that person, and start talking about it.

Talking is the first step and may save a life. It saved mine.
 

National Drug Hotline 

http://drughelpline.org/ 

1-888-633-3239
 

National Suicide Prevention Hotline 

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ 

1-800-273-8255 

Jamie and Niblet relaxing on their day off.