MPTF Says Helpline Calls For Counseling More Than Tripled In 2020


EXCLUSIVE: The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the mental and emotional health of the entertainment industry’s workforce. In 2020, the number of calls to the Motion Picture & Television Fund seeking counseling for mental health and substance abuse issues more than tripled the previous year.

MPTF president and CEO Bob Beitcher tells Deadline that those calls rose from about 1,000 in 2019 to roughly 3,500 last year.

“I guess we shouldn’t be surprised,” he said. “It was a rough year for a lot of people. Many of our industry people were out of work for eight or nine months. Some of them started going back to work towards the end of the year, but a lot of them were out of work for that full period of time and experienced mental and emotional health issues, and substance abuse issues.”

“Loneliness and social isolation are the two main themes that we heard in 2020,” he said. “That’s sort of the root cause, and from that we see depression, anxiety and stress: stress about financial matters; stress around kids at home and schooling issues; stress about care-giving for parents and others. There’s a whole long list of common issues that people experienced in 2020.”

Long stretches of unemployment can be especially isolating for those accustomed to working with large numbers of co-workers. “Most of our industry workforce is accustomed to going to work every day, either on a film or television set where there’s a couple of hundred other people – a big work-family environment – or in administrative jobs at a studio where there’s a lot of social interaction. And then one day that whole oxygen supply gets cut off.”

Beitcher had nothing but praise for the MPTF’s staff of 20 licensed social workers who manage all these cases. “The same number of social workers who provided supportive counseling for a thousand people in one year, provided it to 3,500 people the next year, at a moment when a lot of them were living by themselves and had their own issues as well. They spent long days, and into the nights and weekends, talking to industry members with the same problems. That is a very difficult job to do anytime, and a very stressful job to do during the pandemic. It’s an amazing group here.”

The number of people asking the MPTF has slowed down a bit as the industry ramps back up, but it was still 60% higher in the first two months of 2021 compared with the same pre-pandemic period last year.

“It’s definitely slowing down,” Beitcher said. “People are back to work and getting vaccines and all the things that make people feel a little more comfortable with their lives. But we’re still up 60%, which is a big jump for us. There are still people who haven’t gone back to work because there isn’t work for them. I think there’s a bit of a myth that everyone’s back to work so everyone’s OK now. But even people who are back to work are experiencing issues. There are still a lot of issues affecting our workforce.”

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