By Lucy Tallon,
Head of mental health and wellbeing
In 2017, a talented and much-loved location manager took his own life. His death was one of the catalysts for this Charity to set up the Film + TV Support Line.
Today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, we’re taking a moment to think about him – and the many others in our industry who have lost their lives to suicide. Some in just the last few weeks.
Their stories are not ours to tell. But we listen to those of you who have told us about them, your colleagues and your friends, and it strengthens our resolve to fight for better mental health in our industry.
Earlier this year, we published our research into the ‘mental health crisis’ in the film, TV and cinema industry. (Our research partners rarely use a dramatic word like ‘crisis’ – that’s how bad the findings were.)
We’ve tried to be really careful not to use the statistics about suicide too much, as we believe it has to be done sensitively and responsibly. But I hope this feels like an appropriate context in which to give you those numbers again:
55% of workers in our industry have thought about taking their own lives. The national average is 20%.
10% of them have actually attempted to do so. The national average is 7%. Think about that – that’s one in ten people in your team, crew or office.
So we built the Whole Picture Programme – to prevent, mitigate and support. It’s not an overnight fix or a one-day-a-year effort. Change is complicated, especially in an industry as freelance and fractured as ours.
Prevention is the most complex, time-consuming bit. It involves culture change, which is a key area of work in the Whole Picture Programme – how we talk about things, how we treat each other. We need to keep at it, to shift the needle.
So please, keep talking about these things. Mental health. How you expect others to behave in your place of work. Talk about them every day. Make them everyday, normal things to refer to, that affect us all.
Talk about those who have died by suicide – it’s weird if no one ever talks about them again. That’s how stigma comes about. Why not mark this day, use it as an opportunity, and talk about what you think life behind the scenes in your industry should really be like?
Ten suggestions for talking about suicide:
- Talk to our Support Line if you feel miserable or lonely, day or night. You can call us on 0800 054 0000 or use the chat function. It’s totally confidential. You can even ask to be referred for private therapy, free of charge. We appreciate that suicide isn’t always about mental health. You can call us about legal queries, financial troubles, family issues, or work-related issues.
- Check-in with a team or crew member who’s been a bit quiet lately. Remember to ask twice. We tend to brush off questions about how we are with the “I’m fine” response. Try following up with “I just noticed you haven’t seemed quite yourself recently, so I wondered if everything was okay?”
- Check out our online mental health community, delivered by Togetherall, which we made available free to everyone in our industry during the pandemic, where you can talk anonymously, in a safe space. You can share this access with a colleague or even a member of your household or close family – because sometimes your mental health can depend upon the mental health of those nearest to you.
- Personally, I find this advice from the Samaritans really helpful, because although I actually find it quite hard to do so, I realise how important it is: “If you’re worried someone is suicidal, it’s okay to ask them directly. Research shows that this helps – because it gives them permission to tell you how they feel, and shows that they are not a burden. This GIF from Mind also has quick, practical tips about talking to someone with suicidal feelings.
- If you work with vulnerable contributors, talk to your exec or production manager about the impact on your own mental health, and the tools or training you’d need to equip you to do your job more safely. Over two-thirds of those of you who work with vulnerable contributors feel you don’t receive enough wellbeing support yourselves.
- Be considerate when you talk about individual instances of suicide. Especially on social media. There have sadly been some high-profile suicides in our industry. Human reaction is to speculate why. But it’s nearly always more complex.
- Avoid using the phrase ‘commit suicide’, if possible – suicide is not illegal (any more). Many people bereaved by suicide find the term really distressing because it implies criminal, irreligious or selfish behaviour.
- You can now get ‘post-vention’ advice about how to support your team if someone from work has taken their own life, such as this toolkit from Business in the Community, produced in partnership with Public Health England and supported by Samaritans.
- Be careful when reporting other people’s thoughts about taking their own lives, even if it’s with the best of intentions, eg anonymous quotes from a survey. If in doubt about whether it’s safe or responsible to re-publish, refer to the Samaritans’ media guidelines.
- Consider confiding in a trusted colleague – you might be surprised. Although our industry has deep flaws, it’s also a community of sensitive, skilful people, who are more willing to help than you might think. Although only 7% of respondents to our survey said they’d go to a manager for help if they developed a mental health problem, 86% said that they themselves would feel comfortable supporting an industry peer with a mental health issue.
And here’s one extra, final thought…
Grieving for someone who took their own life can be especially traumatic. Our Support Line can also arrange some bereavement counselling sessions for you. Cruse Bereavement Care has 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.