In February, we published some research about the troubling extent of mental health problems within the film and TV industry. So we’re aware that many of you had already been through a lot.
Then along came Covid-19, creating unprecedented levels of stress, especially for those who are freelance. We’re doing what we can to help with financial problems, but we know that you have other worries too – we’ll keep listening and working to address them.
You are part of a brilliant, successful, creative community and we’re here to support you. It’s important to remember that feeling anxious is a natural reaction to stressful events and that there are things you can do to manage your mental wellbeing.
We’re lucky to have the charity Mind as a strategic partner for our mental health work. Their advice on keeping calm during Covid-19 is excellent and detailed, particularly for those with previous experience of a mental health problem or whose symptoms are acute.
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:
Research shows that loneliness is associated with poor mental wellbeing
We know that many of you in the film and TV industry feel lonely at the best of times, especially if you’re freelance and in between jobs.
Think about new ways to stay in touch with colleagues past and present. Perhaps you could restart a WhatsApp group from a previous production.
Feel represented. If you’re worried how government policy will impact your life, think about signing an online petition or contacting the BFI.
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. Buddy initiatives include TV Mindset/Share My Telly and mentoring schemes include the WFTV mentoring scheme.
Mental health community
The mental health support platform for the industry
We know that you love your work, but it can be tough. We’re giving you access to an online community, free and accessible to everyone who works behind the scenes in film, TV and cinema.
Available 24/7, this platform, known as Big White Wall, is a safe space where you can talk openly and anonymously, chat to a supportive and caring online community, take advantage of guided self-help courses and use self-development resources including those on problem-solving and assertiveness training.
You can also access self-assessment tools and track your progress.
Try it now and be a part of the community.
Set a daily routine
But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t stick to it some days
It’s good practice for your mental wellbeing to have some sort of regular structure to your day. Getting up and going to bed at the same time can help with sleep problems too.
Multi-tasking things like work and childcare, or caring for a vulnerable adult, is challenging for everyone. Be kind to yourself. And in amongst all the connecting, take 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.
Try to get as much fresh air and natural light as you can.
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.
Use trustworthy sources for news and information
That are relevant and healthy for you
Be a patient and trustworthy source of information yourself. Try to avoid speculation, catastrophising or judging others. These are unprecedented times and everyone is confused.
Industry groups like BAFTA, the BFI, BECTU, Directors UK, the FDA, the MPA, PACT, Time’s Up, ScreenSkills, UKCA and the UK Screen Alliance are offering a wide range resources and information for all sections of the workforce.
ITV have shared with us their Covid-19 filming guidance for their own staff, in order that this can be shared with the rest of the industry. You can download this here.
If you have children, check out the Mental Health Foundation’s guidance for talking to children about scary world news, Young Scot’s Covid-19 information for teenagers or point young adults towards The Mix.
Trade newspaper Broadcast has put all its output relating to freelancers outside its paywall, making it free to access.
If you’re looking to 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.
Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn – we share and signpost useful information from all sectors of the industry.
And prepare some things that could help
Think about times when you’ve managed anxiety at work before. Could a previous experience inform how you manage stress at the moment? What tactics do you usually use to handle lack of sleep, going over budget or missing a deadline?
Public Health England have an interactive tool called a Mind Plan, which tailors advice about managing your own mental health to you, based on five simple questions.
Check the contact details of any mental health first aiders or champions on your team.
Keep an eye on any bad habits, like eating or drinking too much, that can make you feel worse. In our survey, around half of respondents said they’d started drinking more to cope with work-related stress and around two-thirds had started eating unhealthily.
Think about your use of social media, and whether or not it makes you feel better.
Here some quick tips for anxiety
When you don’t know where to turn
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.
Try a ‘grounding technique’ to connect you to the present and focus on the sensations you’re feeling right now. Examples include taking shoes off and walking on carpet barefoot and smelling something strong like vapour oil.
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 ‘countering mantra’ to combat persistent negative thoughts, by calmly saying to yourself something like ‘This too shall pass’.
Can help take your mind off worries and feel connected
You could use this time this time to learn a new skill, or brush up on one, like an editing programme. Think about qualifications that could make you more employable when work picks up. Check out online courses provided by Screen Skills and the Indie Training Fund, NFTS virtual open days, the FDA’s course on film distribution, the Open University’s OpenLearn and many professional bodies for free training.
Think about your transferable skills. Career coaching could help you think about moving into another sector of the industry.
If you’re a creative, be creative. Find an online writers’ room. The BBC Studios Writers’ Academy is also opening up to non-professional writers.
Try something new, that takes your mind off worries and makes you feel like you’re using a different part of your brain. Knitting, online escape rooms and sudokus are just some of the ideas that have helped others.
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. Forming a choir is a good example of this, as can be seen by the Aberfan village choir and the Manchester Survivors Choir. Gareth Malone has set up the Great British Home Chorus, but there are many other things to try.
Or why don’t you could initiate something yourself? What would work for your community? If you need help covering your out-of-pocket expenses, you could apply for a small amount of funding from our Community Grants scheme.
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 the phone or videophone – we could also refer you for an online CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) course.
If you’re an employee, check your benefits – many employers offer an employee assistance programme (EAP), which can give you (and sometimes your family members) access to therapy and other professional support.
If you have lost someone close to you due to Covid-19, our Support Line can also refer you for bereavement counselling sessions. 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.
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.