JIM Morrison, the legendary American rock and roll poet and provocateur lies buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, in Paris. His almost nondescript grave is the cemetery’s most visited, even among the grand tombs of such artistic luminaries as Chopin, Piaf and Oscar Wilde.
One of the infamous 27 club – artists and musicians who died prematurely at the age of twenty seven – Morrison struggled with alcohol and drug addictions that blighted his performances with The Doors. Dogged by controversy and fearing he was at an artistic dead end, Morrison fled America for Paris where at 6am on July 3 he was found dead in his bathtub.
In the decades since, the spectacle of the unravelling artist has become almost folklore; a well trodden path to infamy. The road to fame and success is a perilous one and many arrive bruised, battered but nevertheless beautiful into the spotlight. Unprepared and unsupported, some come off the rails in spectacular fashion.
Breakdowns are big business. There are plenty of page views and click throughs, subscription sales and ad revenue in celebrity tragedy. At the centre of the chaos and tragedy there is a human being. And questions that demand answers.
What is the duty of care owed to artists, singers, actors, both fledgling and established, by those making a living from their endeavours? Do those in the creative industries – the managers, agents, recording companies, publishers and producers – owe an artist a duty of care to protect their mental health? Should they be obliged to offer emerging artists more tangible support as they traverse the path to success and stardom? If so, what should that support look like?
THE THREE STAGES
Psychologist Jane Enter is Co-Clinical Director at Raindrum – a private treatment provider in Byron Bay specialising in one-to-one programs treating addiction and mental health issues, as well as preventative programs to nip issues in the bud before they manifest. Enter has counselled many high profile international and local artists and actors. She sees them as having three distinct phases through their careers.
BEING THE PRODUCT
Mark Morrissey, CEO of Morrissey Management, a Sydney based talent agency representing many of Australia’s best known actors including Chris Hemsworth and Delta Goodrem, has worked with performers at every stage of their careers.
Bernard Fanning was the lead singer-songwriter of one of Australia’s most iconic and successful rock bands, Powderfinger. The band prided themselves on focusing on music alone, but Fanning saw many of his contemporaries struggle with the fame game.
Both Morrissey and Fanning recognise that the inherent, sometimes hidden, sensitivity and fragility of a performer and their willingness to share that with audiences can leave them vulnerable. Morrissey believes the public may not realise how fragile and human actors and performers really are.
In a career that has so far spanned 45 years Mark Pope has also worked variously as a promoter, tour manager and manager for the Angels, Cold Chisel, Jimmy Barnes and later INXS. He also had stints in the corporate world working with Sony Music and Warner Brothers Music. Like many others who work in the industry alongside the artists, he concedes there were times he was concerned for his own mental health.
Ed Foster, Head of Label & Publishing at creative agency LUSTRE, believes that in the non-traditional business world of the music industry – where everyone may be struggling as they grow – it can be difficult to define the boundary between being a manager, therapist and friend to an artist.
Adding to all this is the distraction and all pervasive-ness of social media. After 20 years working with high profile and highly successful people in the arts and entertainment industry, Enter sees a whole new set of higher intensity pressures coming to bear on artists and performers with many feeling they are constantly exposed.
Morrissey identified social media and unrelenting coverage in traditional media as contributing to the stress many actors face.
Enter has seen proof that coping with these kinds of stress for long periods of time is beyond most people.
DUTY OF CARE
So are artists and performers owed a duty of care? Is it advisable for those associated with the business side of the creative industries to invest in some kind of ongoing mental health support and counselling for their performers and artists? If not as an act of human kindness then as a way of protecting their investment in the human assets that their business empires are built upon.
Morrissey believes the industry does owe a duty of care. However, he fears managers and others in the creative industries are generally under qualified to offer mental health support to their clients. He sees the value in performers receiving resilience training and support as they begin their careers. Perhaps at drama school, or even during the course of a long film or television shoot.
He believes this support should come from mental health professionals, not well-meaning but ultimately ill-equipped management teams.
“For a manager to carry everything is not realistic,” she says. “Managers may have vast experience in the industry, but they may not know what to look for if someone is under pressure. You need a team around them and you need to have the family involved. People can present well one day, and not so well the next, and it can very much depend on who is seeing it.”
Enter sees first-hand the benefits actors and artists gain from therapy and ongoing support to deal with the challenges of a life in the spotlight, where ongoing therapy can help identify and address potential issues before they manifest into a larger, more destructive issue.
Enter says bespoke, private interventional or preventative programs like Raindrum’s – or similar programs around the world – are the gold star standard for high-profile individuals who require a discreet and immersive approach to achieve sustainable change. These highly-personalised programs use a combination ofmedical, psychological, and experiential therapies – such as art or equine therapy – with targeted nutrition, physiotherapy and exercise. They also focus on creating a sustainable environment for the individual to return to, post program. Enter says while private programs are not possible for everyone, there are core, evidence-based strategies underpinning these programs that managers and artists can implement as a starting point to help safeguard their mental health. These strategies are intrinsically connected to nutrition, rest, exercise, sleep and release.
TIME FOR CHANGE
We often look askance at artists, suspicious that a career in music, performance, film or the visual arts is somehow not a real career at all. We have little sympathy for the well-known, or even the unknown, as they flounder publicly, abusing drugs and alcohol and those around them, seemingly discombobulated by just how rich and famous they are. They can shine so bright that we often have trouble identifying with them as human beings. We think “They’ll be fine. They’re rich and famous, they’re fair game, what have they got to complain about?” But as we evolve and learn more about mental health, it is time we changed our tune, and started recognizing and addressing the unique and often overwhelming strain on mental health that comes with an artistic career.