Posted on Monday, December 13, 2010
AS a therapist in private practice and a volunteer at a free mental health clinic in Los Angeles, I have become aware of a new group of severely depressed people: those who have lost their jobs in the entertainment industry. Their skills have become dispensable in this economy, and their sense of self-worth has plummeted along with their bank accounts.
Beverly Hills is an industry town, home to movie-making and television production. This community is used to a life of creative fulfillment and a sense of everyday well-being. The people who have been cut off from this world are having a hard time finding their way. The phrase “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” — the title of a 1986 Hollywood farce — has become a widespread reality.
California’s unemployment rate is more than 12 percent — much higher than the national average. Entertainment companies — including Disney, Warner Brothers and Paramount — have been among those that have cut jobs.
The number of theatrical films produced in the United States has dropped sharply in the last several years. The number of television pilots has declined as well.
Consider the trickle-down effect. Fewer movies and TV pilots means less work for actors, writers, directors, producers, technicians, public relations specialists, agents, lawyers, composers and many others.
It may be hard to feel much sympathy for these people. The assumption is that they can sit back and take it easy — maybe even follow their dreams à la “Eat Pray Love” the best seller and Hollywood movie in which a woman follows her expensive dreams in search of self.
Many of the newly jobless in Hollywood do have savings and severance, but others do not. Some have been living beyond their means and must face a frightening new financial reality. These people cannot ramble around the world to find themselves when the financial ground is crumbling beneath them.
So many of the newly unemployed were fortunate to live “the dream”: they had nice homes, cars and clothes, ate at expensive restaurants and went on vacation at least once a year. They spoiled their children with computers and iPods.
With unemployment so high, these people often struggle to find a similar job, or any job — especially if they are over 50. The harsh reality is that when entertainment companies do hire, they often choose to forgo the value of age and experience in favor of younger, cheaper neophytes.
As a result, the jobless may find themselves unable to pay their mortgages and fear losing their homes. They may need to downsize and sell their possessions to a degree that is almost paralyzing. I treat one former executive who has lived in his car on a Santa Monica street (the city has become very liberal in allowing the homeless to park without penalty).
All too often, as financial resources dwindle, family life and other relationships suffer, too — which can lead to isolation and even suicidal thoughts. But here comes the next problem: The newly unemployed have often lost their health coverage as well as their jobs.
A $200-an-hour session with a therapist might have been possible in an earlier life, but it is out of the question now. Free clinics like the one where I work are now inundated with requests for mental health care.
But just as demand is rising, resources are drying up. Recently, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut $133 million for mental health care from the California state budget.
Seeking my own hedge against the employment peril, I returned to school several years ago and obtained my master’s degree in counseling. I am also a television producer who has worked, not worked, worked again, and been a victim of economic downturns. I know how the loss of a job can affect an artist.
My job is to give these people back their dignity, their self-esteem and their lives and to help turn years of well-honed skills into new opportunities. The movers and shakers of yesterday are needed to pave the way today. They just have to learn to take a different road.
The Hollywood creative community represents a vibrant group of leaders and thinkers and doers. They have a whole history of experience and a wealth of ideas.
These are not people who want to live off the system and collect welfare or unemployment. They want to continue being valued members of society. But some of them need affordable mental health care and follow-up to achieve that.
By SUSAN WINSTON