The movie, Down and Out in Beverly Hills was a 1986 farce about Beverly Hills street bum (Nick Nolte) who attempted to drown himself in Bette Midler and Richard Dreyfus' pool. Art did indeed imitate life as Beverly Hills has become home to a new group of severely depressed people: the newly unemployed. OK, so why should we be concerned because the state of the economy is affecting the "haves" as well as the have-nots? Beverly Hills is an industry town, home to moviemaking and television shows. This community is used to a life of creative fulfillment and a sense of everyday well being. But the dream machine offered here is now home to 20-somethings who are quickly replacing the 50-somethings with their advanced understanding of new technology, their acceptance of lesser salaries (at least in the beginning) and their general camaraderie. A twenty-year old is more apt opt hire a twenty-year old than someone older. Now the former 'A' list of actors, producers, directors, tech staffs are having an especially hard time finding their way. With privilege and power a former way of life, he loss of that base has incapacitated many. Deep depression does not discriminate against the pocketbook. We have an entirely new group of mentally distressed people who just do not know what to do.
Goodbye to Snooki and "The Situation" and lingo like "GTL." Oh how we'll all miss Jersey Shore. I watch everything once and that was enough. But for the crew of the show, it's one more group out of work. You don't get that kind on long-running (four-year) gig any more in this industry. In fact, if shows last more than two or three episodes you are a winner. So this is one more group knocking on unemployment's door.
As a therapist in private practice in Los Angeles, I work with this population regularly. It is only recently that I have noted a large rise of clients who are used to the good life and can no longer afford it. Their skills have become dispensable in this economy. Consequently their sense of self-worth has plummeted precipitously.
According to the California Government report, California unemployment rate as of Oct. 22, 2012 was 10.2 percent, a significant leap above the national unemployment rate of 7.9 percent. A big contributor to this is the entertainment industry show slow growth in the number of theatrical films produced in the United States. According to the Motion Picture Association of America in 2008 there were 638 films produced. In 2011 the number decreased to 610. The number of studios are shrinking, all leading to the fact that jobs in the industry are disappearing. As the number of film-goers continue to shrink given other entertainment options (particularly for those under 25) the industry employment rates will continue to parody that.
No one cries for the people who were financially well-heeled and are now and out of the game. 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 where a woman follows her expensive dreams in the search for self. (Seriously, how many of us have enough savings to go running around the planet like that for a year?) While many do have savings, others have been living beyond their means with the fantasy that the dream will never end and must face a frightening new financial reality.
Golden parachutes and extensive outplacement programs are far less common than they once were. High-powered executives now have no power at all as their company's pink slips reach their corner offices. These people cannot ramble around the world to find themselves when the financial ground is crumbling beneath them. The harsh realities of today are that if you are over the age of 50 and have lost your job, the chance of replacing that job with one equal to it is very slim. In fact, the chance of finding meaningful employment at all is extremely slim. Younger, cheaper neophytes are replacing them in a time when many companies have chosen to bypass the value of age and experience. The fear of being rendered professionally redundant is magnified by the fear of losing one's home, being unable to pay for their car or their kids' schools. The amount of downsizing that is required is almost paralyzing.
Seeking my own hedge against the employment peril, several years ago I returned to school and obtained my masters degree in counseling. I also remain 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 a lifestyle, self-esteem, and ego... How does this situation in Hollywood differ from other places? I think the egos are larger and the ability to admit a sense of defeat and withdrawal from the adrenalin high this industry can bring is particularly demoralizing. In my world, debilitating depression comes in all forms. I am the reality fix for both the emotions of the situation and a start towards the healing that a truly depressed person must embrace.
So many of the newly unemployed were fortunate to live "the dream": buy a home and a hot car, have nice clothes, eat at the "in" restaurants and go on an exotic vacation at least once a year. They gladly spoiled their children with computers, iPods, iPhones, iPads. And now all that is left for many is this electronic world they built for their kids. They may be plugged in but they find themselves unable to pay their mortgages and fear foreclosure. I treat one former executive who lives in his car on a Santa Monica street as that city has benignly 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. The newly unemployed have often lost their health care as well as their jobs. They need affordable mental health services leading many into the Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole of finding services they've taken for granted now for free.
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 are inundated with requests for mental health care. The once elite of the shrink world are now reduced to working on a "sliding scale." In my case, I work more pro bono hours than I do paid ones. California ranks third in all states for unemployment and axiomatically there comes an increase in mental health care needs.
But just as demand is rising, resources are drying up. When in office, Governor Schwarzenegger governor cut $133 million dollars in mental health care out of the California state budget. If you think that's bad, Governor Brown cut $861.2 million more in mental health care. Since when did depression and suicidal tendencies become moot?
After the age of 50, one is considered a dinosaur in this industry. It is a fact that they will never get those top jobs again. It is a fact that top producers and writers and editors are being replaced by a thing called a "preditor": a 20-year old that shoots, writes, lights, edits on his home computer -- and that takes the place of at least five production people. While streamlining the costs in production, this has put hundreds of talented people out of work. I'm not trashing the advent of new technology, just the consequence of it.
My job is certainly not to discriminate against who have a right to being depressed and who doesn't. My role 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 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 need affordable mental health care and follow-up. They need job training for new media. They need to regain their self-esteem and put their years of experience back to work.
Mental illness has become epidemic and not just on skid row. Whether or not the new employment statistics announced last week are valid, at least here in California the rate of those suffering grows, Depression is not just a buzz word to plug drugs on TV ... It is a growing disease that takes its toll on the economy as a whole. According to the National Institutes on Health, by 2020, depression threatens to become the second biggest health problem in the world. So should we pay attention to those really down and out in Beverly Hills? Skipping the geography, it's your neighbor or colleague, your friend or your parent. Unemployment is a national financial crisis, but let's be clear, it is an emotional and mental crisis as well.