During the height of the Covid pandemic, with social isolation and excessive stress due to job losses, financial difficulty, grief over the death of loved ones, racism, and the presidential election, there was a mental health crisis in America, while access to traditional mental health care was simultaneously restricted.
From August 2020 to February 2021, the CDC described an increase in the proportion of adults reporting recent symptoms of anxiety or depression from 36.4% to 41.5%, with unmet mental health care needs increasing from 9.2% to 11.7% (1).
To no one’s surprise, we saw the utilization of telehealth grow nationally. According to Fairhealthconsumer.org, which has been tracking trends related to telehealth on a month-to-month basis since January 2020, the No. 1 telehealth diagnosis nationally for most of 2020 was mental health conditions.
Surprisingly, a video-chat platform for actors called WeAudition.com, which was not a telehealth platform, saw tremendous growth in its membership during the pandemic, and unexpectedly became a much-needed mental health tool for its users.
I sat down with Darren Darnborough, co-founder of Weaudition.com, to inquire about his platform and how Weaudition.com improved the mental health of their users organically, through community building, engagement, and sharing a sense of purpose.
How has WeAudition.com (a video-chat platform which helps actors audition, rehearse, self-tape, and get advice) improved the mental health of your community of actors, directors, and producers, during the pandemic?
We had multiple messages from users saying it really gave them a sense of purpose, community, and direct connection with others around the world, by doing something they love. Many have emerged with new professional relationships and friendships, a sharpened skillset, and positivity towards a traditionally tough industry. Also, it gave them a way to earn money during a near-complete shutdown of their profession which no doubt had a positive effect on their mental wellbeing.
When you noticed that WeAudition.com had become a lifeline for many users, did you make any changes to enhance their experience?
Yes, we love to iterate ideas quickly when we know they are helpful, so early during the pandemic, we created and launched a free library of guided meditations specifically focused on the actor and their unique challenges. We also offered free student memberships as it was undoubtedly the toughest year to graduate from drama school.
Why do you think WeAudition.com did so well during the pandemic?
We were perfectly poised to be a solution as we had pioneered video-chat for the acting industry back in 2015. During the pandemic, using video-chat to connect with actors and casting directors was not only necessary but vital, and we were already experienced and credible to respond quickly to meet the demands. As such, the world’s biggest casting directors like Sophie Holland (who casts The Witcher) were using our service daily.
Outside of benefiting the mental health of your community, what other positive impact has WeAudition.com made in the film and TV industry?
There are many ways this advancement in technology has made a positive impact, but my favorites have to be how it facilitates and supports diversity in the industry. Talent is everywhere, and so a non-geographical way of casting and connecting is how we can help bridge gaps, and discover talent that may traditionally have stayed undiscovered due to financial, location, or cultural inequities.
What developments are you working on now to bring WeAudition.com to the next level?
We have some exciting new features to encourage more relationship building and conversation through a multi-user community video space, and will be releasing our iPhone app soon. Ultimately, we will continue to use our unique knowledge, perspective, credibility, and experience in the entertainment space to modify video-chat capabilities to specifically fit our audience and niche. It’s not just what technology can do, but who’s using it, and for what, that is the magic for us.
As a final thought, though isolation and stress during the pandemic created a mental health crisis in America that continues into 2021, the evolution of video-chat has increased mental health care access in many ways, through conventional and nonconventional platforms, and for that, I am grateful.