New study investigates mental health in Film & TV sector

A film crew on a beach © Stephane YAICH on Unsplash

As calls for heightened duty of care for contributors on reality TV programmes continue to grow, the industry’s less visible workforce – the many thousands of women and men working behind the cameras across both the TV and film industries – could be facing their own unspoken crisis.

The Work Foundation will play a key role in work by the Film & Television Charity to lift the lid on the scale of mental health issues in the sector and coordinate an industry-wide response.

Insights gathered from more than 2,000 calls to the Film & Television Charity’s recently launched industry Support Line – providing 24/7 advice and support on issues such as debt, depression and harassment – prompted the move. The support line was launched with funding from the BFI.

An anonymous survey will run until July, after which the outcome, along with in-depth quantitative and qualitative research conducted over the summer by The Work Foundation, will be revealed to industry this coming autumn.

The ground-breaking industry study The Looking Glass will provide the largest and most focused review of mental health and wellbeing in the sector. It will offer analysis on: how the prevalence of mental health problems within TV and film compares with the general population, as well as workforces across other UK industries; how specific characteristics of the industry could be adversely affecting workers’ wellbeing; perceived barriers to effectively managing mental health and wellbeing of those in the industry; and how people can be best supported.

Despite being a desirable career, the largely freelance working culture – often synonymous with a lack of job security and difficulty accessing statutory benefits, such as sick pay and pensions – can take its toll on mental health and overall wellbeing.

Alex Pumfrey, the Film & Television Charity’s Chief Executive Officer, said: “We know how much people love and are proud of their work in the film and TV industry, but the highs and lows can take their toll. The suicide of a well-loved colleague from the film community in 2017 was the catalyst for our new Film & TV Support Line. Before he died, he wrote of how lonely he found his job and that he had not felt supported by his own industry. Since then, the stories of stress and strain that we hear every day through our support line continue to shine a light on the uncomfortable truth when it comes to the wellbeing of those working in this sector.

“This is why we are now working with industry to face this issue. It’s time to establish a robust evidence base and piece together a true reflection of what’s really going on inside our sector, and the first step is our industry-wide survey. We are calling on everyone who works in film, TV and cinema to take part and share their experiences so we can get a true picture of the wellbeing of the industry and use this insight to create real change.”

Work Foundation Deputy Director Heather Carey said: “We’re proud to be collaborating with the Film and TV Charity to deliver this ground-breaking research into the health and wellbeing of people working in film, TV and cinema.

“While mental health and wellbeing is emerging as a priority for Government and employers, very little is known about the mental health of screen industry workers. We’re working to build this evidence base; looking at how different aspects of working life in the industry impact mental wellbeing and what practical interventions could effectively support workers to manage their wellbeing at work.

“Crucially we are working in partnership with industry. Business leadership will be key to improving working practices and enhancing access to workplace support, and hence we look forward to working closely with the industry taskforce and employer forum to reach these goals.”

To coincide with the launch of the new study, the charity has assembled an Industry Taskforce and an Employer Forum to develop an understanding of shared challenges throughout the industry and help steer and challenge the work.

The Taskforce consists of a range of industry figureheads including BFI CEO Amanda Nevill, VUE International Chief Executive Tim Richards, and David Sproxton OBE, co-founder of Aardman Animations.

The Employer Forum – which will draw on the views of HR and diversity leads as well as mental health champions and professionals from organisations including the BBC, STV, Channel 4, Endemol Shine Group and Cineworld Cinemas – will lead the way in responding to the findings of the survey and research. It will channel energies into creating practical, scalable, industry-led interventions to support the mental health and wellbeing of those working in the film, TV and cinema and ensure that the industry can continue to attract and retain the best possible people.

Alex Pumfrey added: “While the industry is now more open to dialogue around mental health, we appreciate that employers struggle to support workers, particularly freelancers – who may be experiencing mental health concerns whilst working. Through this programme of work we aim to be an honest broker, creating a step change by bringing industry together to create lasting solutions that enhance the wellbeing of our sector.”

The UK screen industries are a vibrant and valuable component of the UK economy, with the film industry alone directly contributing £17.8 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2018.

Those working in the film, TV and cinema industry are being encouraged to have their say by completing the online survey, here.

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