Hollywood Therapist Sees Mental Health Effects of Double Assault

WGA and SAG-AFTRA Mental Health photo illustration

Worry. Anger. Frustration. As the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes rolled around, people in Hollywood were feeling it all. “The attack was hard on everyone,” said writer and producer Joe Henderson THR. “This is a strange time because there is a mix between feeling empowered to fight for what we deserve and believe in — and feeling powerless because we feel invisible for the value we create. I differ between depressed and inspired. That’s the challenge.”

Psychotherapists who work with a large proportion of Hollywood clients say their patients are restless and triggered during work stoppages. “What happens when people experience severe stress like this, there’s a primitive defense mechanism — it’s called projection. That’s when people spill their unwanted feelings out on other people,” said Beverly Hills psychologist Jeff Blume, noting that this could be a factor in the bitterness now permeating the industry. “There were a lot of mistakes – it was the studio’s fault, or the actors’ fault.”

Therapists say that many of their clients — such as the crew below the line as well as lower-level workers in affected companies — feel a sense of powerlessness in the moment, a sense of being caught in the crossfire. Real financial pressure — The Entertainment Community Fund (see page 34) has seen requests for financial assistance skyrocket amidst the strike. But therapists noted that creatives in particular felt turned on by what they perceived as neglect and contempt from the studio.

“I think everyone comes to Hollywood looking for consenting parents,” says Dennis Palumbo, a writer and psychotherapist who specializes in creative issues. “I thought what [the strikes] have explained to many of my patients that while Hollywood tries to put creative people in the role of children and the industry itself in the role of parents, those are not roles. This is an employer-employee role, and employees have rights.”

This realization has caused many people to reframe how they view studios’ treatment of their workers. “It’s really frustrating that the people we think of as our studio partners, the CEOs of these companies, seem so unwilling to share the fruits of our work with us,” said Rob Forman, Universal’s lot coordinator and co-chair of the WGA West LGBTQ+ Committee. . “It has made people reconsider our relationship with these studios and look at the minutiae that we’ve had in the last decade as streaming dominance took over. This is a relationship business, and it is an abusive relationship.

This reassessment, as well as significant financial fears, have resulted in spikes in anxiety, catastrophe, situational depression and OCD symptoms, therapists say. The creative feels unmoored and unmoored. “There’s a loss of identity — of what to do with themselves,” says Philip Pierce, a licensed clinical psychologist in Beverly Hills.

But according to mental health professionals, there are ways to cope and even thrive during a strike. “The way to survive as a creative person in a capitalist market is to have a very good and positive relationship with your own craft,” said Palumbo. “Love must be between you and your creative endeavours, you and your craft. That’s where love should be.

On strike, screenwriter and showrunner Monica Owusu-Breen had been trying to reconnect with what drew her to storytelling, before the Hollywood business took over. “I’ve been trying to find my joy in writing again,” he said. “I write about things that maybe I can sell, maybe not. I remember that I went into this career because I loved it, and writing is something I can still do.”

Blume also encourages clients to use this time to retool and reevaluate what they want from their lives now that their Hollywood projects have been put on hold. “This is the time to try to rebuild yourself,” he said.

In a city that often focuses on sass and hilarity, mental health professionals also believe that now is the time for self-care, honesty, and authenticity. “Be vulnerable with your support system,” says Blume. “Let people know if you have a need, whether it’s financial or emotional.”

Many creatives have also found that picketing has made them feel useful and involved. “They saw friends on the picket line,” Blume said. “They made promises to do something with them. It’s a unified thing.

But because the WGA strike is now past 100 days past 100 days, Forman said, fatigue is an added pressure. “I was out on the picket line and coordinating a lot. There are times when you’re just tired,” he says, “where the grind gets to you and you need that next energy boost, whether it’s a themed picket, a drink with friends or disappearing into a video game. Regardless of your particular stress coping mechanism.

While problems will likely only deepen as the strike drags on, therapists express admiration for their clients who go on strike during these trying times. “They [have] financial anxiety, creative anxiety, but I was hit hardest by the solidarity felt by the writers and actors,” said Palumbo. “And how, for one person, everyone feels the matter is worth breaking. I am proud of them for that.”

Lesley Goldberg contributed to this report.

This story first appeared in the August 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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