The Hollywood Strikes’ Toll on Mental Health – The Hollywood Reporter

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Anxiety. Anger. Frustration. As the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes roll on, folks in Hollywood are feeling it all. “The strikes are hard on everyone,” writer and producer Joe Henderson tells THR. “It’s a weird time because there’s a mix of feeling empowered to fight for what we deserve and believe in — and feeling powerless because we don’t feel seen for the value we create. I vary between being depressed and being inspired. That’s the challenge.”

Psychotherapists who work with a largely Hollywood clientele say their patients are unsettled and triggered during the work stoppage. “What happens when people are under a great deal of stress like this, there’s a primitive defense mechanism — it’s called projection. That’s when people assign their unwanted feelings onto somebody else,” says Beverly Hills psychologist Jeff Blume, noting that this can be a factor in the acrimony now permeating the industry. “There’s a lot of blame — it’s the studio’s fault, or it’s the actors’ fault.”

Therapists say that many of their clients — such as below-the-line crew as well as lower-level workers at struck companies — feel a sense of helplessness right now, a feeling of being caught in the cross fire. Financial pressures are real — the Entertainment Community Fund (see page 34) has seen requests for financial aid skyrocket amid the strikes. But therapists note that creatives in particular feel activated by what they feel is disregard and contempt from the studios.

“The way I look at it is, everybody comes to Hollywood in search of an approving parent,” says Dennis Palumbo, a writer and psychotherapist specializing in creative issues. “I think what [the strikes] have done is illuminate for a lot of my patients that while Hollywood tries to put the creative person in the child role and the industry itself in the parent role, that’s not the role. It’s an employer-employee role, and employees have rights.”

These realizations are causing many to reframe the way they perceive the studios’ treatment of their workers. “It’s just frustrating that people we considered our studio partners, the CEOs of these companies, seem to be so unwilling to share with us the fruits of our labor,” says Rob Forman, Universal lot coordinator and co-chair of the WGA West LGBTQ+ Committee. “It has made people reconsider our relationships with these studios and look at little things we experienced in the last decade as streaming dominance took over. This is a relationship business, and it was an abusive relationship.”

These reassessments, as well as significant financial fear, have produced a spike in anxiety, catastrophizing, situational depression and OCD symptoms, therapists say. Creatives are feeling untethered 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 the strikes. “The way to survive as a creative person in a capitalist marketplace is to have a really good and positive relationship with your own skill set,” Palumbo says. “The love should be between you and your creative endeavors, you and your skill set. That’s where the love should be.”

While on strike, screenwriter and showrunner Monica Owusu-Breen has attempted to reconnect with what drew her to storytelling in the first place, before the business of Hollywood took over. “I’ve been trying to find my joy of writing again,” she says. “I’m writing things that maybe I can sell, maybe I can’t. I remember that I got into this career because I love it, and writing is something I can still do.”

Blume also encourages clients to use this time to retool and reevaluate what they want out of their lives now that their Hollywood projects are on hold. “This is a time to try to rebuild oneself,” he says.

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

Many creatives also have found that picketing has made them feel useful and involved. “They saw friends at the picket line,” Blume says. “They made appointments to do things with them. It was a unity thing.”

But as the WGA strike has now passed 100 days, Forman says, exhaustion is an added stress. “I’m out on the picket line and lot coordinating. There are moments where you’re just tired,” he says, “where the grind does get to you and you need that next pick-me-up of energy, be it a themed picket, a drink with a friend or to disappear into a video game. Whatever your particular stress-relief coping mechanism is.”

While problems likely will only deepen as the strikes drag on, therapists expressed admiration for their striking clients during these difficult times. “They [have] financial anxieties, creative anxieties, but I’m mostly struck by the solidarity that the writers and actors feel,” Palumbo says. “And how, to a person, everyone feels the issues are quite strike-worthy. I’m proud of them for that.”

Lesley Goldberg contributed to this report.

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

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