2020 has brought unprecedented challenges for our industry – especially freelancers. We hear you when you describe the strain it’s placed on you every day, and your worries about the future.
But it’s important to remember that you’re part of a brilliant, successful, creative community – and there are things you can do to look after your mental wellbeing.
We’re here to help. We’ve already started building more support services and creating long-term change in the industry via The Whole Picture Programme. But to give you some useful tools right now, we’ve also put together the following mental wellbeing advice – based on guidance by our strategic partner Mind – specifically for people who work in film, TV and cinema.
Here are some tips that we’ve drawn from Mind’s advice and elsewhere, which we’ve tailored to our industry, to help with common mental health concerns at the moment:
The industry is going through a period of rapid change and adjustment. Everyone’s concerns about work will be different depending on the sector they work in, the skills used, current employment status and their home life.
If you’re returning to the office, or getting back on set, you may be feeling more anxious and unsure about Covid. ScreenSkills offer ‘Covid awareness on production’ training as well as a downloadable visual guide to help you get ready.
If you’ve been experiencing mental health problems that may impact your return to work, there may be adjustments that your employer should make to help you. Rethink Mental Illness has published a guide to What’s Reasonable At Work that can help you decide how best to approach these conversations with your employer.
The possibility of redundancy could be making you feel incredibly stressed. You can learn more about your rights during redundancy via Acas and Mind has advice on coping in this situation. They have also identified 7 steps you can take to help manage the challenges you may face if you are furloughed.
Many freelancers are concerned that as budgets get squeezed their rights will be affected and there will be even greater pressure to work longer hours and take on more responsibility for less. BECTU have information on rates that may be relevant to your role and helpful when negotiating. They also have advice specifically related to Covid-19 including workplace rights, health and safety and income support.
The UK Cinema Association have teamed up with Screen Skills to offer online training on some of the safety measures to be aware of when returning to work in cinema exhibition. They also have some general information on the guidance and support in place for cinemas during the pandemic.
Is now the time to consider job sharing? Our work/life situations have changed dramatically and if you’re also a parent you may have new considerations around childcare and flexible working. Share My Telly Job is an online community built for freelancers who would like to find more flexible working contracts. If you’re looking to connect with others for mutual support Cinemamas is a welcoming online platform for Mums and parents working in film.
If you’re not in work currently, you could use this time to learn a new skill or brush up on one. Think about qualifications that could make you more employable when work picks up. Many professional bodies offer free training. Check out online courses provided by Screen Skills, Indie Training Fund or grow skills in areas outside of the industry for free via OpenLearn.
Take time to switch off
Working from home or frequently checking social media can make you feel you’re ‘always on’. Feeling connected with others is vital for your mental health but find time to connect with yourself too.
Try to plan some time to rest. People rest in different ways. For some it’s reading, others can only switch off when gardening. What works for you?
The importance of physical exercise can’t be understated. Give yourself a daily dose of mood-lifting endorphins, which are released in the brain when you exercise. Try and do it before you start your work day so you don’t get distracted, or commit to getting active as part of your lunch break.
Remember to step away from your computer and add more movement into your day. This can be even harder when working on your own at home. There’s a free Chrome app that sets break reminders on your computer that could help.
Stick to boundaries between work and home. If possible, work in a separate space to your main living area, or even put a piece of cloth over your laptop if you work from your bedroom. Why not do something to mark the end of your working day – setting a call with a colleague or manager to reflect on the day and sign off or going for a stroll around the block.
Multi-tasking things like work and childcare, or caring for a vulnerable adult, is challenging for everyone. Be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go to plan. Try not to see it as ‘working from home’, but rather, ‘trying to make things work during a pandemic’.
Get creative, stay connected
If you’re a creative, be creative.
If you’re a writer why not flex this skill by using it in a different way? Future Learn has a free online course where you can learn to set lyrics to music and connect with songwriters. Follow Sonder & Tell for storytelling inspiration and regular ‘writing prompt’ exercises.
Catch up with Grayson Perry’s Art Club.
Use your skills to make something that gives a voice to those you feel have been overlooked. You could draw inspiration from the Forgotten Freelancers film. Research shows that finding a shared activity with your peers can be very helpful, especially after collective trauma.
Socialise with your network, as well as talking about work. Host a virtual movie night or start a book club.
Use our online mental health community to chat with others in a safe and supportive environment, or just take time to focus on yourself by accessing a wealth of self-help resources. Known as Togetherall, we have made this mental health platform free for everyone working behind-the-scenes in film, TV and cinema. Available 24/7, you can talk openly and anonymously with others online, take guided self-help courses such as assertiveness training and giving up alcohol, or use the self-assessment tools to keep track of how you’re doing. Try it now and be part of the community.
You could do a government-approved course on ‘psychological first aid’, which will help you understand what someone would need if they’ve recently experienced trauma. NB this is not the same as what’s commonly known as mental health first aid.
Become a volunteer – helping others can boost your mental wellbeing as well as theirs. 86% of respondents to the Looking Glass survey said they’d be happy to support a colleague at work with a mental health problem.
Our Covid-19 Emergency Relief Fund helped almost 2,000 people in urgent need. There are still many who need urgent support working behind-the-scenes. If you can, please consider donating or fundraising in support of others in the industry by fundraising for the Film and TV Charity. Get creative with it and we’ll be sure to share your efforts on our channels.
Feel represented. Sign online petitions or open letters about issues that you care about. Be a good ally to those from under-represented groups. The BAME TV Taskforce and their open letter gained great attention as part of their lobbying work.
Through connection and mutual support, it’s also possible to bring about positive change. We’ve set up a new Community Grants scheme designed to promote peer-to-peer support for Black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues. Eligible projects can promote career access and development, build community networks and amplify underrepresented voices.
If you’re worried about someone else and think they may need support with their mental health, but don’t know how to get them to seek help, Mind has resources to help you with a variety of different situations.
Here some quick tips for anxiety
Lockdown easing can be a relief to some but can also create more uncertainty and pressure to do things before you’re ready. You may feel at greater risk, or worried about vulnerable loved ones.
If you are experiencing greater anxiety or even panic when entering certain situations, there are various resources available on managing anxiety including a free course via our mental health community platform.
Mind have some really thoughtful advice and reassurance if wearing a mask – or seeing others wear them – makes you feel anxious.
Public Health England’s interactive Mind Plan Tool allows you to create a personalised plan for managing your mental health with a simple 5 question quiz.
Rethink Mental Illness has put together helpful guidance for people with pre-existing mental health problems about managing increasing anxiety as lockdown lifts.
Familiarise yourself with the symptoms of a panic attack. Panic attacks can be very frightening, especially if you’ve never had one before. You might think you’re having a heart attack or that something else is happening in your body that needs urgent physical treatment. Remind yourself that it could be a panic attack and that these feelings will pass.
Try a simple breathing exercise like this one from Mind or this from the NHS. Or just breathe in for the count of four…and breathe out for four.
People who can help
Don’t be afraid to admit you’re having a bad day. Or week.
Our Film and TV Support Line provides a listening ear round the clock, 24/7, or you can get in touch via our live chat. We can then provide up to six sessions of therapy, free of charge, via phone or videophone.
If you have lost someone close to you due to Covid-19, our Support Line can also arrange some bereavement counselling sessions for you. Cruse Bereavement Care have put together some really thoughtful resources, which can also be used if you wish to support someone else who’s been bereaved. Winston’s Wish provides advice on how to talk to young children when a close family member has died.
If you need some advice on how to talk to young people about Covid-19 and the risks to be aware of Young Scot has some excellent guides.
If you’re experiencing domestic abuse, you can seek help safely. Details of several services and safe ways to make contact, for people in a wide range of situations, can be found on the government’s dedicated webpage.
If you are feeling low, vulnerable or experiencing suicidal thoughts, please know that there is help and support for you. The Samaritans offer a confidential listening service, where they won’t judge or advise, but just listen. You can call anytime on 116 123. Other ways of contacting them are on their website.
Worried about others
You may know someone who’s struggling and becoming more withdrawn. If you have concerns that they might be feeling hopeless or thinking about taking their own life, it’s important to take it seriously and know how to support them in seeking help. You could save a life.
Although it can be a difficult subject to talk about, suicide is a very real concern. Evidence gathered in 2019 for our Looking Glass report suggested that more than half of people working in the film and TV industry had considered taking their own life.
The campaigner Jonny Benjamin has spoken out about the importance of talking about suicide, which we’re often afraid to do. You can watch this short video that he made in support of CALM’s campaign, explaining why he’s raising awareness about suicide and why he made Stranger on The Bridge about his quest to find the man who stopped him from taking his own life.
If you want a better understanding of the signs to look out for and the skills required to approach someone who is struggling, check out the resources on Zero Suicide Alliance. The Samaritans also offer advice on how to support someone who is struggling covering a range of potential problems including self-harm.
Suicide prevention should be a primary concern and an integral part of managing mental health at work. However, the risk can’t always be eliminated and therefore it’s important to know how to support yourself and others in the event of a suspected suicide. BITC has a suicide post-vention tool kit with practical advice for employers to help employees come to terms with the loss of a colleague or friend.
If you’re talking or writing about suicide in a public forum, eg on social media, publishing anonymous quotes from surveys, please consult the Samaritans Media Guidelines to help you do this safely and responsibly.