January 29 is Bell Media’s “Let’s Talk Day” to end the stigma around mental illness. Ironically, Hollywood has become a hotbed of suicide in the past year. In fact, a recent article called it a “seeming epidemic of suicides.”
And these aren’t out-of-work actors or failed writers. Many saw great success, including a production manager from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, TV chef Anthony Bourdain, and Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington. And this year began with news that the creator of the hit series Ugly Betty had also taken his life.
Fortunately, the industry is taking the issue of mental health seriously. Employee-led groups have started at Verizon Media. Companies such as Apple, Hulu, and Viacom offer workshops and meditation/quiet rooms for staff. Mental health first aid is being introduced along with on-set trauma counsellors.
Meanwhile, TV writers are focusing on mental health stories that are rarely told. Recently, an episode of The Resident had an MS patient who was struggling financially and feared that his wife would soon lose her home. Thanks to a quick move by Nic’s father, the patient was saved from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
But he wasn’t the only one at risk. Sadly, the hero of that incident, who later talks the patient’s wife through her guilt, who seems to just “go with the flow,” kept that gun and in the end, was contemplating his own suicide, alone, in his car.
It’s a stark reminder that often the least obvious individuals are the ones most at risk.
Blue Bloods’ first episode of 2020 involved a police officer who committed suicide. The widow wanted answers and blamed the police force. After all, this was one of several officer suicides in a year. She wanted to know when they were going to help with the mental health issues that cops faced daily.
It’s an issue that the general public rarely consider. But we should.
Meanwhile, Freeform’s new dark comedy, Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, has discussed suicide with a more humorous note. A teenager mentions she once tried to kill herself because her half-brother was mean. Fortunately, her chosen method - sitting in a car with the heater turned all the way up - didn't work.
Of course, suicide is nothing to joke about. I agree. In real life.
But television is a place of make believe. It should be a safe space to discuss the good, the bad, and the really ugly. Why else would Criminal Minds be in its 15th season?
Plus, I recently attended a memorial where there was a lot of laughter among the tears. So humour has its place – especially when dealing with difficult topics. It can teach with irony. It can also lighten a mood so people are more willing to hear an important message.
Suicide – and mental health – will never be an easy fix. Fortunately, the entertainment industry is approaching it from multiple directions. But we all need to be involved. Because as Bell’s “Let’s Talk” campaign says, “when it comes to mental health, every actions counts.”