As the number of survey responses approaches 200, I’ve taken a look through the statistics gathered so far and have noticed some interesting, if (from my perspective) unsurprising, figures.

I was prompted to take a quick look by a story that appeared in several papers mid-week: a new study from the University of Houston claims that spending a lot of time on facebook is linked with “depressive symptoms.”

The study, entitled “Seeing Everyone Else’s Highlight Reels: How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms” measured the Facebook usage, depressive symptoms and the tendency of Facebook users to compare themselves with others. Yup. It’s a real study, and it was published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, in case you’re interested in reading it in full…

The papers this week have, of course, been full of the juiciest findings. Basically, It turned out that people who used Facebook more tended to compare themselves to others more and so tended have more depressive symptoms. “Liking other people’s status updates and photos on Facebook”, reported USA Today rather glibly, “could make you like yourself less.”

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It’s something I have long suspected, and one of the reasons I started ‘In anything at the minute?‘ – to have honest conversations with other actors and perhaps even encourage a conscious change in how we present ourselves to our friends and acquaintances, particularly on social media. With over over two thirds (71%) of respondents in the #HonestActors Survey so far admitting to comparing their own careers to those of friends, and a similar figure (68%) having resented a friend for getting work, it seems the time is right for us all to be sensitive to our peers and more responsible about how we construct the version of ourselves we present online.

“You should feel good after using Facebook,” says Houston doctoral candidate Mai-Ly Steers. “However…the unintended consequence is that if you compare yourself to your Facebook friends’ ‘highlight reels,’ you may have a distorted view of their lives and feel that you don’t measure up to them, which can result in depressive symptoms. If you’re feeling bad rather than good after using Facebook excessively, it might be time to reevaluate and possibly step away from the keyboard.”

While a 2007 ONS report found that in any one year 1 in 4 British adults experience at least one mental disorder in a given year, no UK statistics exist for how many experience mental health issues over a lifetime. Although similar studies in the US and New Zealand reveal figures as high as 50%, the #HonestActors Survey has so far shown that only 33% of 179 actors polled are certain they have not suffered from mental disorders. Of the two thirds who responded that they have, or may have suffered but have never been diagnosed, only 2 in 5 have received treatment. Although no extensive survey of actors on this subject has, to my knowledge, ever been conducted, a limited study of 41 professional actors living in Los Angeles, Toronto, and Cape Town, published in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts in 2012, unsurprisingly suggested that “there is a psychological cost for participants engaged in the creative arts.”

Chartered Psychologist Soren Stauffer-Kruse gives further scientific voice to something I suspect we’ve all been aware of for some time: “Actors often face rejection and when they do have work they are required to give a great deal of themselves emotionally to their performance. In addition they regularly face work pressures that the general public is unaware of. The inconsistency of employment and the subsequent financial instability […] and the impact of challenging production and location schedules on family life […] have a detrimental effect on an actors mental health and can even lead to suicide. Given the fact that there is no specific provision of psychological therapies for actors in the NHS it seems that some provision is clearly needed.”

The deaths of Richard Gent, Briony McRoberts and Paul Bhattacharjee prompted the launch of Arts and Minds, a joint initiative between Spotlight, Equity and The Stage aimed at raising the awareness of stress and mental wellbeing in the entertainment sector. But one year on, how much is being done? What can we do to help?

It’s a long time since Theodore Roosevelt observed that “comparison is the thief of joy” (*historical quote klaxon*), and it’s long past time for us to stop making comparisons between our own perceived failures and our friends’ apparently endless stream of success. Perhaps we should also keep in mind that it won’t hurt to occasionally post about those quieter, less glamorous moments too. In fact, it might go a long way in making others feel less inadequate, less lonely and more part of a socially conscious network.

Let’s start looking beyond the ‘highlight reels’ and start having honest conversations…

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Jonathan Harden

Actor. VO. Director.

Former barman, waiter, cook, labourer, ‘tugger’, security guard, dish washer, removals man, bouncer, office manager, Wendy’s ‘Crew Member’, Costa ‘barista’, snooker table maintenance guy, shop assistant, usher, boom op, golf buggy driver, and one-time pretend bank robber.

Started this thing thinking nobody would listen.