When we launched the 24-hour Film and TV Support Line in April 2018, we had already sensed problems with the mental health and wellbeing of our industry’s workforce. In January 2017 location manager Michael Harm had taken his own life, saying how lonely he had felt in his work and calling on the industry to do more to look after its own. And the signs were undeniably there in the revelations of widespread bullying and sexual harassment emerging in late 2017, and later in the deaths of several TV show participants.
The calls began to flow into the Film and TV Support Line, and it became clear that poor mental health was behind many of the challenges faced by those working in film, TV and cinema.
In 2019 we took action, commissioning the Work Foundation’s comprehensive research into the mental health of our industry’s workforce. The Looking Glass research was designed to assess the scale and gravity of the problem, but also to understand its underlying causes and identify potential solutions.
The centrepiece of the research was an online survey. As soon as we heard that more than 9,000 people had completed the survey – 5% of the eligible workforce – we knew we had hit a nerve. While so many love our industry and its extraordinary creativity, hundreds also shared their stories of stress and struggle, of being bullied, coerced, demeaned, of feeling powerless and voiceless, of being so desperate for a break that they wished physical harm on themselves, or simply wanted to leave.
The headlines from the Looking Glass research are startling: 87% of our workforce have experienced a mental health problem, well beyond the 65% UK-wide figure. Worse, more than half have considered taking their own life, and 1 in 10 have taken steps to end their life. We saw increased risk factors for the freelance workforce, who make up the majority of our industry. And for those who identify as BAME, LGBTQ+ or disabled, the numbers and risk factors are significantly elevated.
The Work Foundation has confirmed that these findings amount to a mental health crisis in our industry.
Analysis of the underlying causes of the crisis reveals three areas with a direct correlation to poor mental health outcomes: conditions of work, the industry’s culture, and its capability to provide support for those who need it. The ‘three Cs’ interact and mutually reinforce one another to create a perfect storm for poor mental health. As such, we must address the three Cs together if we are to contain or reverse the crisis and provide better support for our workforce.
The scale and gravity of what needs to be done is too big for The Film and TV Charity to tackle alone. Following best practice advice from our research partners the Work Foundation, and looking to the proven experience of other sectors, we shared the research and our understanding of the underlying causes with industry leaders from right across the value chain — development, production, post-production, VFX and animation, broadcasting, distribution and cinema exhibition.
It is in the interests of our industry’s business leaders to invest in the mental health of their workforce. The Deloitte report ‘Mental Health and Employers’ is framed as a case for investment, offering a return of £5 for every £1 spent. The report estimates that mental health problems including absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover cost the UK economy up to £45 billion every year. On Deloitte’s figures, the film, TV and cinema industry is shouldering around £300 million of losses caused by mental health problems; a conservative estimate when considering the worse than average results of the Looking Glass research. At a moment when our industry is in rapid growth, this investment in the wellbeing of our workforce is vital.
We invited industry leaders to form the Film and TV Taskforce on Mental Health to co-create and co-fund a programme of work to tackle the mental health crisis.
We have been heartened by the industry’s overwhelmingly positive response and the Taskforce represents forward-thinking industry leaders from across the value chain.
A strategic and collaborative approach is crucial to address the deep-seated issues identified in the Looking Glass. The Taskforce will be supported by our strategic partner Mind and a wide range of industry bodies with valuable experience in this space.
The Whole Picture Programme will launch rapidly in April 2020 as a 2-year urgent response to the research findings, as part of a 10+ year sustainable plan to support the long-term mental health of our industry.
This approach of an urgent response backed up by a longer-term strategy mirrors the recommendations in the Stevenson / Farmer review commissioned by Downing Street in 2017.
Devastating though the findings from our research are, we firmly believe there is cause for optimism. The Whole Picture Programme is an ambitious, evidence-based plan designed for impact. Most importantly it will be both industry-wide and industry-led, and the energy and commitment shown by so many of the leading organisations from film, TV and cinema will pave the way to real change. While there are no quick fixes to the complex causes of our industry’s poor mental health, and it will take time and diligence to be able to show improvement, we are looking forward to getting started.
Our 10-year vision for film, TV and cinema in 2030 is one where our brilliant and creative industry has ‘great work’ which contributes positively to the mental health of our people, and so helps our whole industry to thrive.