Here at The Film and TV Charity, we’re concerned about the potential impact of coronavirus on people working in film, TV and cinema, particularly in relation to freelance workers. Our friendly team can offer a listening ear and help you to think through your options.
Read our advice around finances during this period, including ESA, universal credit, utilities and how to apply for support.
We also offer support grants to help if you’re experiencing urgent financial difficulties, although we do ask that you consider the financial advice we’ve provided and consider all of your options before contacting the team.
Your mental wellbeing
Only a few weeks ago, we published ground-breaking research about the extent of mental health problems within the film and TV industry. So we know that many of you have already been through a lot.
We understand the huge stress and worry that COVID-19 is placing on you, particularly on those who are freelance.
But you’re also part of a brilliant, successful, creative community. 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 the COVID-19 outbreak is excellent and detailed, particularly for those with previous experience of a mental health problem or whose symptoms are acute.
Read the tips below taken from Mind and elsewhere, which we’ve tailored to our industry, to help with common mental health concerns at the moment:
Seek 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, over the phone or online.
If you’re an employee, check your benefits – many employers offer an employee assistance programme (EAP), which can also give you access to therapy and other professional support.
If you’re a freelancer, think about other ways you might be covered, for example by your partner’s EAP. Some providers extend their services to other family members too.
Stay connected. Research shows that loneliness is associated with poor mental wellbeing.
We know from our survey that many of you 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 friends, family or colleagues past and present. Perhaps you could restart WhatsApp groups from previous productions or join a Facebook group of industry peers.
Look out for online events being set up for freelancers, such as TV Mindset, or by regional bodies.
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 others. 86% of respondents to our mental health survey said they’d be happy to support a colleague at work with a mental health problem. Look at buddy initiative TV Mindset/Share My Telly and the WFTV mentoring scheme.
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.
Try to plan some time to rest. People rest in different ways. Some people enjoy a good book, others use gardening to switch off.
Exercise can boost your mood. Have a look at free exercise classes on YouTube to keep mind and body mentally fit.
Try to get as much fresh air and natural light as you can.
Use trustworthy sources for news and information, that are relevant and healthy for you.
Use the government’s advice on coronavirus, especially if your work involves large gatherings or freight transport. And look at the NHS advice around managing your health. You could also try the new government coronavirus information service on Whatsapp.
Be a patient and trustworthy source of information yourself. Try to avoid speculation, catastrophising or judging other people. 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.
Anticipate distress. And prepare some things that could help.
Think about times when you’ve managed anxiety at work. Could a previous experience inform how you manage stress at the moment?
What tactics do you use to handle things like lack of sleep, going over budget or missing a deadline?
Check the contact details of any mental health first-aiders or champions at work.
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.
Some quick tips for anxiety when you don’t know where to turn.
Try a simple breathing exercise to relax. Or just breathe in for the count of four…and breathe out for four.
Try downloading an app. There’s a selection on the NHS website, many of which are free like Chill Panda, or have in-app purchases, like Stress & Anxiety Companion. Other apps are available to trial before you purchase including Headspace, which offers short, guided meditations. Free mindfulness practices are available on websites like Mindful.
Try a ‘grounding technique’ to connect you to the present and focus on the sensations you’re feeling right now. Examples include taking your shoes off and walking on carpet barefoot, holding an ice cube 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’.
Activities 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 something like an editing programme. Think about qualifications that could make you more employable when life returns to normal. Check out ScreenSkills’ online courses, NFTS virtual open days, the FDA course on film distribution, the Open University’s OpenLearn and many professional bodies for free training.
ScreenSkills and the Indie Training Fund are also offering a special daily schedule of free sessions hosted by commissioners, agents, writers, industry greats and more. All have volunteered to give their time and experience to freelancers for free.
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, crafting, sudokus or online exercise classes are just some of the ideas that have helped others.
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, like the Manchester Survivors Choir. Gareth Malone is setting up The Great British Choir online but there are many other things to try. Or you could initiate something yourself?
Tell us what’s helping you by tagging us on social media.