Actors and Depression
By: Dr. John Moore
We see our favorite actors on television or in movies – we often smile and giggle whenever we see their images flicker across screen. They make us laugh, they make us cry and when they are at their best, they make us think.
And while it’s common for many of us to imagine these professionals in real life as being much like the characters they portray, the stark truth is that for a lot of them, it’s just not that way.
In fact when it comes to things like depression, actors tend to be extremely vulnerable. You may be wondering why?
Actors and Depression
As a therapist who has worked with a fair number of actors in the Chicago and national market, I can give you a perspective on life “behind the camera” that you might not read about elsewhere. You may be thinking – “whatever” – these are celebrities – what’s so hard about their life? Well, the answer to that question is simply this: not everyone who works in the world of entertainment is a celeb.
And for those who do hold celebrity status, much of what you see is the stuff of image making.
What follows are five solid reasons why some actors suffer from depression. Included in a few of the points are real life examples of actors who have given us a window into their private lives. And so just for a moment, I’d like you to imagine you are an actor as a way creating greater insight.
1) Constant world of judgement
When you are an actor, you live in a world where you are judged on how you look, what you sound like and how believable you are in a given role. And we haven’t even gotten to the part where you have to audition for a part.
Imagine what it might be like to live in a world where it’s a never ending roadshow of being judged? Now imagine being rejected more often than not by people who think you aren’t the “right fit” for a given part. You were either “too short” or “too fat” or “too old” to be successful. What must that do to your self-esteem? For some actors like Chris Evans, the pressure to look good piled on to the point that therapy was needed as a tool for coping.
2) Financial problems
Remember earlier when I mentioned that not all actors are celebrities. In truth, the vast majority of people who act aren’t even minor celebs. Instead, they are the folks we see at local theaters or in television commercials. They also do off camera work, life voiceovers and narrations.
What you may not know about some of these folks is that getting a steady stream of “gigs” is extremely difficult. Most actors are lucky if they get one or two meaningful parts a year (if that). If they are lucky enough to get hired, the compensation is usually smallish and paid in one or two lump sums. Is it any wonder why so many of them, such as Elaine Stritch, struggled with alcohol before they made it big?
3) You’re only as good as your last show
Imagine if your ability to work tomorrow was predicated on how you preformed today? Now imagine having to be pretty much perfect day in and day out when you appear on stage or in front of the camera? That’s what it’s like when you are an actor.
One of my favorite celebs is Dylan McDermott. When you look at the entirety of his career, you soon see a person who has had more parts than you can shake a stick at. Many of these roles, however, were short lived because of poor ratings that were beyond his control. What I admire about McDermott is that he’s been able to maintain his sobriety from alcohol through the tough times.
In case you didn’t know this – McDermott’s mom was murdered when he was just 15-years old. It doesn’t get any more real than that.
4) Nothing is private
Do you enjoy posting goofy pictures of yourself with friends on social media? How about taking your dog for a walk to places like “dog beach” here in Chicago? You probably don’t even think about it when you do any of these things. If you are an actor however – even someone who is considered to be “smalltime” – it’s not quite that simple.
You see part of being in the entertainment world means being super mindful of your public image. This means being extra careful about what pictures you take, where you go and who you are seen with. Even local actors who aspire to one day make it big are careful about this. You may be wondering why?
Well, simply because how they are portrayed today has a big impact on the work they might receive tomorrow. Paul Walker certainly knew this. Perhaps this is why he always had one foot in Hollywood and one foot out? Nothing an actor does is private and everything is scrutinized. And I’m not even going to go into the body shaming that takes place on social media with celebs.
5) It’s hard to live up to expectations
Imagine the type of acting you do is related to comedy. Instantly, everyone is conditioned to think you are funny. In fact, many have expectations that you will make them laugh. After all, that’s what you do for a living, right?
Here’s the deal – many actors – particularly those involved in comedic roles – wear a mask that hides their inner sadness. I wrote about this when I explored the lives of famous comedians like Robin Williams who sadly took his own life as a result of a lifelong struggle with depression. The use of comedy by many of these folks is nothing more than a coping tool for darker, more entrenched emotions that lurk deep inside.
All of us have our favorite actors. I have so many in fact that I probably couldn’t list them all in one post. Many of them were born right here in Chicago-land, including Harrison Ford, Dennis Farina (RIP) and Betty White. Who are your favs?
In any event, what I hope you got out of this read was the basic understanding that what you see on stage, on TV or in movies isn’t likely an accurate portrayal of the actor. In many ways, these are people just like you or me except they live in a pressure-cooker world that many of us might not be able to handle. This is why a good number of them go to counseling and are open about their struggle with the blues.
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