It is one of the things that working as a 3D guy in either games and VFX have in common. The thing that we dare not speak its name…… Mental health problems. Let me start right here by saying that I am not an expert on any of this and what you read here is just my experiences and those of people I have worked with over the years. I’m not a trained psychologist,psychotherapist or counsellor, I’m just another crazy guy like the rest of us.
Its an open secret that we have all encountered at one time or another, a work colleague or friend who has some sort of mental health issue. For some it may be clinical depression or even more serious mental health problems such as schizophrenia. Working in a creative field, a fair few of the people we work with or under may be termed ‘oddballs’ in normal everyday life. For some that helps to fire their creativity, for others it can be a slow burn where the hours and demands of the industry increasingly take their toll on them until something snaps deep in their heads.
Neither working in games or visual effects are really terribly healthy in the long term for anyone, even if we judge things on a physical level alone. But while it is seen as sort of understandable if someone is physically burnt out and needs some time away from the field to recover; when the problem is a mental health issue it’s suddenly a thing we are not supposed to talk about. I’ve seen various levels of management at firms turn a blind eye to some very alarming behaviour by people working for them. No one wants to admit that they have any crazy people working for them! The press would have a field day, I’ve heard said more than once. You Know what? I hate to admit it, but they were probably right.
So for most firms, unless you are about to run around with a chainsaw in the character animation department your mental health issues are mostly ignored. One of the most alarming things I saw was one particular guy who it was obvious to everyone was heading for a major mental health episode. He’d worked about 2 years solid of constant crunch time and over the years had a few mild mental health problems before that (although he had them under control up till that point). But after 2 years of crunch time and extreme overtime with very little time off and no free time to go and see any mental health professional (to stop it before it got too bad), things progressed drastically.
The guy, who I’ll call Bob (not his real name as I want him to remain safely anonymous) was convinced there were rats everywhere. It started out with his fixation of a rat infestation in his flat. SPOILER: There was no infestation. He was convinced that they were living in his sofa, inside his walls and biting him at night when he tried to sleep. He would tell anyone who would listen about his ‘rat problem’, including interestingly enough people who were high enough up the corporate food chain to call attention to Bob’s obvious increasing problems.
Things took a nose dive after about a month of him seeing rats everywhere at home, when he started seeing rats in the vending machines at work, hiding under his desk and refusing to go to the toilets as there was a huge rat in there. Of course none of this was true the entire workplace was hospital clean, it was a symptom of his increasingly worsening mental health issue. It eventually got to such a stage where multiple people were having a word with leads and management that this guy needed some serious help…and fast.
So with great reluctance they gave him about 2 months enforced medical leave to try and get himself sorted out. He went away,got treatment and was fine. But one of the very things that made him worse (as with many people with problems such as his) remained. I’m talking about the industry itself, where crazy long unpaid overtime is worn like a badge of honor, where extreme caffeine intake is normal and everyone lives on really unhealthy food as they don’t have time to eat properly. What I am saying is that if you’re unlucky enough to have some sort of mental health issue and not work at a place that really cares about your welfare….. Then you’re on a one way trip.
Some places do care and do every god damned thing in their power to help an employee with any sort of health problem. I’ve been lucky enough to work at a couple of places like that. While it’s not something I’ve ever kept hidden, it’s certainly not public knowledge that I’ve suffered from clinical depression for my entire adult life and that I’m bipolar. I’ve never needed medication, as normally keeping insanely busy is enough to keep things ‘in order’. I learned very early on that I had to keep an eye on my own mental health and keep it on an even keel, as no one else wherever I worked would. So the moment I see it slipping for whatever reasons…be it as I’m not happy at the place I work; or even due to some complex family stuff… I move on. I keep busy, I don’t stop for a moment, as for me that helps keep it all fine.
Like me, a great many artists do not mention any mental health problems they have for most of their career, as make no mistake it can be a career killer. I only really made no massive secret of mine once my career was safe (plus I was already on the wind down career wise anyway.) There is still so much stigma attached to mental health issues in a way that’s completely different to physical health issues. A person with a mental health problem is at best seen as a big risk to take to hire and at worst seen as one step away from a dangerous lunatic.
Will this stigma ever leave? I would like to think so, but I doubt realistically it ever will. Everyone likes to have someone to blame, we all need a ‘bogeyman’ to be scared of. So in the workplace people with problems such a these fulfill that need.
So the moral of this article …if there even is one, is that it’s always best to keep an eye on your own mental health as employers can’t always be trusted to do that for you. Always have one person you trust (that you don’t work with) who you’re close to that can spot any downhill movement mentally. While I’d love to say to make your employers aware of any problems such as these…. The sorry fact of life is if you did…. A large proportion of places would find a reason to let you go very soon afterwards. Although the light at the end of the tunnel is that some would support and help you. Not every firm is run by bastards.
You can find out more about Wayne Robson on his website.
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