Performers and Depression
“I know what it’s like to feel depressed.” Lady Gaga
Many creative people experience mental health challenges like anxiety and depression, often starting early in life. A number of them are actors, musicians and other performers.
Are there personality traits or aspects of the entertainment business that may encourage emotional problems for performers?
Most of you reading this are probably not actors or other performers, but the perspectives and insights of these talented artists can be helpful in understanding and dealing with emotional health challenges.
One estimate is “about 10 to 15 percent of children and teens are depressed at any given time. Research indicates that one of every four adolescents will have an episode of major depression during high school.”
From Depression in Teens and Children by Kalman Heller, PhD, Psych Central, 2015.
Cynthia Germanotta has explained part of what led to her daughter’s mental health challenges. She writes:
“When my daughter Stefani – who most people know as Lady Gaga – was a child, she had to learn painful lessons about the dangers of cruelty and the importance of kindness.
“She was creative and unequivocally her own person, but her peers didn’t always appreciate the things that made her unique—and different.
“As a result, they would sometimes taunt, humiliate, or exclude her. It was hurtful for her to experience and heartbreaking for me to watch.”
She explained that the bullying weakened Gaga’s confidence, made her question her self-worth, and led to “anxiety, depression, and destructive behavior.”
Their Born This Way Foundation is partnering with Yale University for the Emotion Revolution – see more in my article Emotional Intelligence To Be Creative.
Lady Gaga was bullied, even thrown into a trash can. She has talked about the impact:
“I was called really horrible, profane names very loudly in front of huge crowds of people, and my schoolwork suffered at one point. I didn’t want to go to class.
“And I was a straight-A student, so there was a certain point in my high school years where I just couldn’t even focus on class because I was so embarrassed all the time. I was so ashamed of who I was.”
From my article Creative People, Trauma and Mental Health.
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In a candid article about dealing with her depression, actor Kristen Bell recalls that in college she “felt plagued with a negative attitude and a sense that I was permanently in the shade.
“I’m normally such a bubbly, positive person, and all of a sudden I stopped feeling like myself.
“There was no logical reason for me to feel this way. I was at New York University, I was paying my bills on time, I had friends and ambition—but for some reason, there was something intangible dragging me down.
“Luckily, thanks to my mom, I knew that help was out there—and to seek it without shame.”
[Video from theoffcamerashow on YouTube.]
Bell emphasizes that hiding mental health issues can be self-limiting:
“When you try to keep things hidden, they fester and ultimately end up revealing themselves in a far more destructive way than if you approach them with honesty.”
“I didn’t speak publicly about my struggles with mental health for the first 15 years of my career. But now I’m at a point where I don’t believe anything should be taboo.
“So here I am, talking to you about what I’ve experienced.
“Here’s the thing: For me, depression is not sadness. It’s not having a bad day and needing a hug. It gave me a complete and utter sense of isolation and loneliness.
“Its debilitation was all-consuming, and it shut down my mental circuit board. I felt worthless, like I had nothing to offer, like I was a failure.
“Now, after seeking help, I can see that those thoughts, of course, couldn’t have been more wrong.”
From I’m Over Staying Silent About Depression By Kristen Bell, Motto, May 31, 2016.
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Bullying and mental health
The article Robin Williams’ Suicide: Depression and the Effects of Bullying (on NoBullying.com) noted Robin Williams was “bullied as a child for being overweight. …
“But a question not many people ask is whether bullying during childhood has an effect that extends into adulthood.
“Are bullied children more likely to become depressed as adults? …
“The effects of bullying into adulthood and how adults that suffered from bullying as children fair in life is a subject that was explored in a 2013 study by researchers from the Duke University Medical Center and the University of Warwick.
“The study…concludes that “Bullied children grow into adults who are at increased risk of developing anxiety disorders, depression and suicidal thoughts”.
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Some other examples of performers who have been actively creative in spite of their depression:
Sarah Silverman “suffered depression as a child growing up in New Hampshire. By the time she was 14, she was prescribed four Xanax four times a day.” [Los Angeles Times.]
In “I Smile Back” Silverman plays Laney, a “suburban mother of two who self-medicates with cocaine and self-destructive sex,” as a newspaper interview summarizes her role.
She commented on her character as being so different from her comedies:
“They’re just different parts of me that aren’t usually the ones you see. Comedy is very different from drama, but they share an adjacent wall, and comedians in general tend to come from a lot of darkness in their lives.
“I mean, look at us, we drop like flies. So depression was a source for me, that was easily accessed.”
From my Inner Actor post Insecurity and darkness and comedy.
Sarah Silverman gets real about depression.
Interview video with Amanda de Cadenet
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Actor Nikki Reed at age 13 co-wrote the movie “Thirteen” with director Catherine Hardwicke.
As a teen, Reed said in an interview, “I was lost. I was really unhappy with who I was. There were lots of times when I’d wake up and just want to die…Who knows what changed?”
“Maybe you can only be depressed so long. I just woke up and it was a new day.”
From The Real Deal by Patrick Goldstein, LA Times, Aug 13, 2002.
Janet Jackson said, “I remember, even after the ‘Rhythm Nation’ tour in 1990, when I was in my early twenties, I was really bummed out. Looking back on it now, it was depression.
“But it hits a lot of people – and a lot of artists – and I didn’t know that. Nobody ever talked about that in my family – I still haven’t talked to anybody in my family about it.”
[Crushed Velvet By Richard Harrington, Washington Post, July 9, 1998.]
Another article says “Jackson insists she was never driven to the point of suicide by her depression, even when she was at her worst:
“No. No, not suicide. I was very unhappy. With depression, there’s a lot of crying. You don’t want to get out of bed. You can’t speak. That happened to me a lot, where I so badly wanted something to come out, but it couldn’t.”
[Mystery Cowboy Helped Jackson Out Of Depression By WENN 29 February 2008.]
Alanis Morissette – “To combat her depression, Morissette traveled to India and Cuba, read, competed in triathlons and reconnected with friendships that she had let lapse. Feeling better within a year, she went on to produce a second hit album.”
Carrie Fisher, “best known as Princess Leia in Star Wars., has suffered from manic depression since age 15.”
From Celebrity Meltdown – Celebrities and heroes who struggle with depression, Psychology Today November 1, 1999.
Anne Hathaway once told British magazine Tatler that she suffered from anxiety and depression as a teen, and has an interesting perspective on being a “different person” at the time:
“I said to Mom the other day, Do you remember that girl? She has now gone, gone to sleep. She is no longer part of me.
“I am so sorry she was hurting for so long. It’s all so negatively narcissistic to be so consumed with self.” [Yahoo News]
Many people might take issue with thinking of depression as “consumed with self” – it is a provocative idea.
But with my own past experience with depression, I think there is some validity to it.
From article (on my Depression and Creativity site) Anne Hathaway on her depression as a teen.
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In my research of creativity and creative people over the years, I have come across many dozens of other performers who have experienced childhood depression and anxiety, often continuing into their adult life.
[Also, these topics of mental health, anxiety and depression are very personal: I have experienced a number of years of generalized anxiety and clinical depression – for which I got counseling and/or medication – and more years of different levels of dysthymia or chronic depression.]
Does being an entertainer negatively impact emotional health?
Wanda Behrens-Horrell, L.C.S.W., N.C.Psy.A, a child developmental psychoanalyst, writes:
“Because of the nature of show business, child actors are exposed to drugs, alcohol, and sex at an early age.
“At the same time, young actors must constantly cope with rejection, jealousy, self-scrutiny, obsessive thoughts, and the nonstop need to be perfect.
“These children are at high risk of becoming emotionally unstable and of becoming drug, alcohol, or sex abusers.”
From her article The Child Performer, Psychology Today Jun 22, 2011.
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In a Backstage article, actor and Associate Professor of Theatre at Southern Oregon University Jackie Apodaca responds to a reader question:
“Dear Jackie: As a performer, I find myself subject to a battle with depression and black moods when not working and sometimes when working. What can a performer do to combat this?”
Apodaca writes: “In her book ‘The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius,’ Nancy C. Andreasen, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at the University of Iowa, argues that the same attributes that help artists create—such as openness and sensitivity—may also make them more susceptible to mental and emotional problems.
“Research is ongoing on the topic, but when we actors spend so much time dredging up various emotions on command, it seems likely that we’d be more prone to setting ourselves off-kilter than, say, a carpenter.”
Creativity and Depression, Lost Vouchers By Jackie Apodaca | Posted March 17, 2010.
(Both openness and sensitivity are topics addressed in many of my posts on creativity on this site and others.)
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Psych Central resource page Depression Treatment By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
10 Celebrities with Depression, Bipolar Disorder, or Both by Therese Borchard, May 10, 2016.
4 Facts About Teen Depression and How Parents Can Help By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., Psych Central.
Celebrities who suffer from anxiety, depression and other mental disorders (imdb – Internet Movie Database)
Among the many names: Winona Ryder “says she had panic attacks starting at 12 and ended up in a psychiatric clinic at 19 for treatment of severe depression”; Christina Ricci “spoke about her highly publicised teen years, saying she was often depressed.”
Bright Star — Black Sky: A Phenomenological Study of Depression as a Window Into the Psyche of the Gifted Adolescent by P. Susan Jackson, Roeper Review, 1998.
Meditation Technology for Emotional Health and Creativity
One of many quotes: A Scientific American magazine article noted: “Several studies have documented the benefits of mindfulness on symptoms of anxiety and depression and its ability to improve sleep patterns.”
One of my pages: Emotional Health Resources
Programs, books, articles and sites to improve your emotional balance and enhance your creative life.
“The greater access you maintain to yourself, the richer and broader your array of creative tools.” – From article: “Affect Regulation and the Creative Artist” by psychologist Cheryl Arutt.
Eby, D. (2016). Performers and Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 18, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/creative-mind/2016/06/performers-and-depression/