EXPERTS: meet Drea Letamendi, the nerdy psychologist

The 3D Fall Series of The Quebec Film and Television Council is now available to all EXPERTS users! Targeting all professionals of creative industries, these sessions focus on Diversity and Inclusion, Dialogue and Employee Development within the creative industries. Among them is Dr. Drea Letamendi’s workshop “Reducing Stress Through Compassion, Resilience and Positive Psychology”, available until December 31, 2021.

Three questions to Dr. Drea Letamendi

SYNTHÈSE: At what point should someone start to feel concerned about his or her mental health at work?

Dr. Drea Letamendi: In general, I recommend that workers think about their mental health on a daily basis. Mental health problems can creep up on us gradually, and it is always best to tune in to any behavioral or emotional changes in our professional lives on a regular basis. Catching early signs of stress, burnout, sleep deprivation, depression, and anxiety can lead to proactive interventions and better outcomes for our well-being. Signs of mental health struggles include: sleeping difficulties, excessive worry, significant changes in mood, and increase in substance use like alcohol. Most often, professionals will first notice how those behavioral shifts impact their work–for instance, lowered levels of concentration or focus, decreased ability to make decisions, or lowered satisfaction with one’s projects or tasks. If but one of these signs is present, it is better to take that change in behavior seriously and to explore both internal and external resources that could mitigate further challenges and struggles.


Are you aware of any stress patterns associated with burnout that seem to be specifically related to the creative industries?

Two specific patterns are common: Absenteeism and Presenteeism. Work absenteeism refers to unplanned time away from one’s professional obligations for the purposes of avoidance or escape. Unexpected and prolonged absenteeism may occur because a professional has run out of the energy or capacity to tolerate the demands of their work environment; and yet, stepping away so abruptly can often be more disruptive than helpful. Absenteeism can be physical or psychological–for instance, being at work or tending to work-related projects all the while feeling numbed or detached towards that same work. This kind of absenteeism is risky because it can lead to errors and lapses of judgment.

In creative industries, presenteeism is more common than absenteeism.  It can also be more destructive to the worker’s well-being. It manifests in the form of longer hours and outward, exaggerated displays of commitment and loyalty. Presenteeism is performative. It is even rewarded by creative cultures, but it can also indicate burnout when the professional feels a lack of reward or satisfaction in the process. It is often accompanied by exhaustion as well as feelings of bitterness, hollowness, and helplessness. Because it is sometimes driven by the need for more visibility, praise, or advancement in the work setting; it can lead to mental fatigue and continued feelings of resentment if the extra labor of presenteeism doesn’t lead to these outcomes.


How should the employees of our industries best take advantage of the changes induced by the pandemic, in order to improve their wellbeing at work?

One major priority is taking care of basic needs. Although it sounds simple enough to do, employees should consciously ensure that they are scheduling sleep, exercise, meals, *and* playtime purposefully as part of a consistent, daily routine; not as an afterthought, determined by work schedules. Getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep on a regular basis will lead to lowered levels of stress, improved physical health, and a higher level of happiness in general. To some industry professionals, the pandemic has offered flexible schedules and autonomous workdays. 

Research shows that workers are generally happier and satisfied at work when they are given more independence and agency to address everyday decisions. In these cases, employees are encouraged to make inventory and assess what parts of their workday they can control — whether it be selecting the types of tasks that they can do, gauging the order of their responsibilities, scheduling their breaks, choosing the team members they can best collaborate with, considering professional options and development opportunities, and so forth…

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