Panel Focuses on Mental Health Issues in the Film Business

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Tue, 07/04/2023 - 11:26 -- Nick Dager

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences held a panel called Destigmatizing Mental Health last week in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation, aiming to raise awareness among emerging and experienced filmmakers alike about the importance of mental health in the entertainment industry.

Pictured, from left to right, are Madhuri Jha, Maurice Benard, Paul Dalio, Pierluigi Mancini, Brian Nam, Dr. Kojo Sarfo, Brittany Snow and Lexi Underwood take part in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' panel, Destigmatizing Mental Health. Photo by Richard Harbaugh, A.M.P.A.S.During the panel, filmmakers shared their personal experience with mental health challenges and how these experiences influenced their careers. They were joined by two licensed clinicians who provided professional guidance and insight. The panel offered strategies for breaking down barriers, fostering understanding, and empowering filmmakers to embrace and prioritize their wellbeing.

Panelists included Brittany Snow, actor, and director; Lexi Underwood, actor; Maurice Benard, actor and host of State of Mind with Maurice Benard podcast; Paul Dalio, writer/director/composer; Pier luigi Mancini, PhD, president of the Multicultural Development Institute; Brian Nam, co-founder & CEO at Dive Studios; and Dr. Kojo Sarfo, psychotherapist.

“We live in unprecedented times where nearly one in five Americans in the past year show symptoms of depression,” said moderator Madhuri Jha, MPH, LCSW, vice president of science, equity, and integration at ETR. “Suicide is the leading cause of death in people 20-34 and kids aged 10-14. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a rise in the need for mental health services like we've never seen before.”

Benard, who has played Sonny Corinthos on “General Hospital since 1993 and who has bipolar disorder, kicked off the discussion by sharing the personal impact the pandemic had on him by saying that he couldn’t find a therapist for four months at the time. “I was at a point of no return with the way I was feeling. Finally got [therapy] and it saved my life. Even now it can be very difficult to get therapy. Somebody could die,” he said.

Snow, who recently directed the film Parachute, which is about a woman recently released from rehab after struggling with eating and body image, said struggling with mental health is a universal phenomenon. “Everyone has mental health and a story to share,” she said. “I find that for me the thing that helped me the most is that shared connection and understanding that we're more alike than different. Mental health is the great equalizer. Depression, anxiety, it doesn't matter where you came from, or what you look like, or what job you have, this is a part of all of our DNA.”

“When people make movies, it's important for us because we have the opportunity to share this story in whatever capacity we can. Whether it be writing a movie, or going on social media and talking about it, that's the connective tissue where it's important for others to see themselves. We're all trying to find each other and see ourselves,” Snow added.

Underwood, who appeared in hit TV shows such as Cruel Summer and Little Fires Everywhere, said she is a staunch advocate for therapy. “The world is very chaotic and it's important to have a safe space where you have a judgment-free zone. For me, a big thing that I had to get over as an artist was to give me the permission to be vulnerable and to be myself. On set we’re sometimes in rooms that may seem a bit intimidating or scary, but I gave myself a moment to give myself more grace and give myself the space to be vulnerable and make mistakes.”

The panel was part of Academy Gold Rising, a career development program for students and young professionals from underrepresented communities. Currently, 92 students from 51 schools in the U.S. and abroad participate in the program. Academy Gold Rising works with various studios and industry organizations to provide educational programs, career preparation sessions, and networking and mentorship opportunities with Academy members and industry professionals.

The Ruderman Family Foundation supports Academy Gold Rising as part of its broader partnership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in which the foundation and the Academy work to advance their shared objective of promoting greater inclusion in the entertainment industry. The Foundation’s three-year, $1 million grant to the Oscars-affiliated Academy Foundation helps champion new perspectives on filmmaking and film history as well as an accessible and equitable experience for audiences of all backgrounds.

Through its support of Academy Gold Rising, the foundation strives to create an environment where aspiring young filmmakers, regardless of their background, can find their place in the entertainment industry — leading to a more inclusive and diverse industry over time.

“We are gratified to partner with the Academy on working to transform Hollywood into a place where mental health is destigmatized, and where essential services and resources are more readily available to those both on and off screen,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “This panel is a crucial step in raising awareness to advance that mission, ultimately decreasing the sense of isolation felt by far too many in the entertainment industry who are grappling with mental health challenges.”