Pioneering better mental health behind the scenes

We need a drastic culture change in the creative industries to support workers.

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The Film and TV Charity supports the 180,000 people working behind the scenes in the UK’s film, TV and cinema industry. We have existed for almost 100 years and are uniquely placed to understand the industry’s issues. We all rely heavily on film and TV to keep us entertained and informed and, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the sector was booming. The industry contributed £16.7bn to the UK economy in 2018.

Away from the glamour of awards and premieres, the industry depends on the creativity, grit and determination of talented individuals in an enormous variety of roles, from writing to directing, visual effects to costumes, and rigging to sports broadcast. There is always a human cost to keeping the cameras rolling – we tend to hear the stories that others do not, about the impact of viewing traumatic footage in a newsroom editing suite; of looking after vulnerable contributors; of a 40-hour shift without sleep.

The industry has been devastated by coronavirus: 97 per cent of freelancers lost their livelihood as production shut down overnight, three-quarters struggled with little to no support from government schemes. We experienced a huge surge in demand for our services.

In 2019, we commissioned groundbreaking research to look at the mental health of our industry’s workforce, conducted by the Work Foundation. An incredible 9,000 people completed the first part of this research, a workforce survey.

The outcomes were worse than we feared. Thousands shared heartbreaking accounts of being belittled and humiliated, afraid to speak up and afraid of losing work – 87 per cent had experienced a mental health problem, well beyond the 65 per cent UK-wide figure. Half of respondents had considered taking their own life, compared with a fifth on average. Issues ranged from a lack of control over long working hours to a worrying prevalence of bullying, social isolation, depression and anxiety. We saw increased risk factors for the freelance workforce, who make up a huge proportion of our industry and are not able to access company support structures.

Now we owe it to the thousands of people who entrusted us with their private stories to instigate culture change across the industry. We shared our research with industry leaders, who committed to an ambitious programme of change – the Whole Picture Programme is our two-year response, as part of a ten-year strategy.

This approach mirrors the recommendations of the Stevenson-Farmer review. The Film and TV Taskforce on Mental Health will co-design and co-fund the programme with an initial investment of £3m. We will also work alongside Mind and industry bodies. The success of the programme will mean improved productivity, retention of talent and opportunities for genuine diversity. If we are ready to support one another, we can create a stronger industry, and will be prepared to continue to attract inward investment and maintain our track record as one of the nation’s greatest success stories.

Alex Pumfrey is chief executive officer of The Film and TV Charity.

For more information about the Whole Picture Programme, please visit filmtvcharity.org.uk

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