Mental wellbeing during COVID-19

Posted on February 11, 2021 by Colin Beesting, Lucy Powell, Scott Blair

Categories: General

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact our personal and working lives, focusing on your wellbeing and those around you has never been more important. In this post we hear about the mental health support available for film workers, some advice on how to manage your wellbeing, and a personal account of someone’s experience during the pandemic.

We know that everyone’s experience of the pandemic has been different and moving forwards in these uncertain times is incredibly difficult. Not all advice in this article will be relevant to all, but we hope it creates some comfort in knowing you are not alone and that there are support networks out there to help.

Support for film workers

Lucy Powell, Community Support Lead at The Film and TV Charity, discusses research they’ve undertaken on the wellbeing of people working in film, TV and cinema, and the resources they’re launching in response.

How would you sum up this past year? Stressful? Disruptive? Full of uncertainty? All of the above?! No doubt, if you’re working in film exhibition you’ve experienced these things and more, as cinemas have been forced to close, festivals downsized, and events cancelled. These work stresses can have a huge impact on our mental health. In such challenging times we’re proud to say The Film and TV Charity’s support services have been a lifeline to many.

You may have heard of us already, but if not, we hope it’s reassuring to know that there is help out there for you. We’re the charity working behind the scenes of the UK film, TV and cinema industry. From research to writing, through casting and production, to editing, sales, distribution and exhibition, we support the lives of everyone involved. This means you can access services like our confidential 24/7 support line (on 0800 054 0000), free of charge. Call our friendly team about anything from debt and money worries to concerns about your wellbeing and mental health. We can chat through available services such as counselling, legal and financial advice.

The industry is going through a period of rapid change, so looking after our mental health has never been more important. But even before COVID-19 we were facing a mental health crisis. In 2019 we commissioned research to look at the wellbeing of those working in film, TV and cinema and found that 87% of you had experienced a mental health problem, compared with the UK average of 65%. What’s more, over half of workers behind-the-scenes had considered taking their own lives, compared with 1/5 nationally.

A group of people sit and stand in a circle in a room, facing a person in the foreground. Some people hold cameras in their hands, or wear them around their necks.

It’s clear something needs to be done, but how do we ensure everyone accesses the support they need, whilst creating happier, healthier workplaces? The Film and TV Charity along with our industry partners have committed to a programme of change, called The Whole Picture Programme. Over the next two years and beyond, we’ll be rolling out new services and resources to address mental health problems in the industry and tackle unhealthy working cultures.

We’re developing anti-bullying services and resources, a toolkit for mentally healthy productions, better professional support and much more. We want to get the industry talking about their experiences and address some of the behaviours that are negatively impacting our mental health. But, we can’t do it without you. We need everyone from CEOs to runners, programmers to marketeers, box office staff to film festival organisers, to be mental health advocates and get involved.

Here are five things you can do today to make a positive difference for the future:

  • Download the Film and TV Support Line logo. Make sure it’s on your email footer, call sheet and signage.
  • Follow us on social media @FilmTVCharity and support the upcoming behaviour change campaign.
  • Contact mentalhealth@filmtvcharity.org.uk if you’d like to get involved in our mental health work.
  • From March onwards, use our new bullying support resources if you experience or witness bullying or harassment.
  • Sign-up for our dedicated mental health newsletter.
Graphic with text which reads: We help with life behind the scenes. Film + TV Charity. Don't hide your talent. Give us a call on 0800 054 0000.
Poster for the Film and TV Charity’s support line. Image courtesy of the Film and TV Charity.
Managing our own mental wellbeing

Colin Beesting, Founder of Creative Freedom, considers the potential impact of COVID-19 on people’s wellbeing – and some positive things we can all do to minimise this, including Mental Health First Aid.

In the past year, many working in the cultural sector have experienced the biggest transformations of their working lives. Working in film, cinema or any role in the cultural sector has never been a secure career choice, but with the enforced closure of cinemas and live arts venues, many staff have found themselves furloughed or without work. Support for many independent practitioners who operate through a limited company model has been sadly lacking. All of this has led to stress, worry and uncertainty.

The British Medical Journal explored the potential long-term mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the population. “There will be no vaccine for these mental health impacts” they say, and emphasise the need for society to explore ways to mitigate this.

After the initial shock that everyone experienced last spring, people have begun to find their own route through the ‘new-normal’. Flexible working practices have come to the fore, and those in the creative sectors responded by finding new, interesting and innovative ways to bring their work to audiences.

Isolation

However, a report by Lancet Psychiatry spoke of being separated from loved ones, the curtailment of social activities and also limitations on exercise having a mental health impact on many people.  For those living alone – just over 8 million households, according to the Office for National Statistics – the workplace provides much of the social interaction that many of us need to be happy and mentally stimulated. The forced removal of this has, for some, prompted symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Addressing the challenges

To address these challenges takes time and planning, but the effort is definitely worth the reward. Introducing some regularity to life is one way to start building a feeling of ‘normal’ and putting us back in charge:

  • Waking up: Although you may have some extra time in bed without the need to travel to work, aim to wake up around the same time every day. This helps stabilise your internal clock and improve your sleep overall.
  • Getting ready: Keep to your established morning routine if you can – get ready, washed, and dressed as if you are going to the office. This will help you get into the mindset that you are at work.
  • Setting up your workspace: Try to set aside a work area separate from your sleeping area, as this will help to prepare you for work mode and make it easier to switch off at the end of the day.
  • Get moving: Including some movement into your work from home routine will help maintain your physical and mental health. You’ll feel more awake and alert, and your concentration and sleep will improve.
  • Adapt your working style: Keep communication open, as often and frequently as possible.
  • Virtual social sessions: Making conscious human connection is more important than ever. If you usually schedule time in the workday for an activity or exercising with your colleagues, continue to make time for this over webcam or phone.

A person sits in a cafe, looking at a laptop on a table in front of them.

How can we help?

One way we can all better support each other is by regularly checking in and making a conscious effort to ask about people’s emotional health. The causes of mental ill health are a complex mix of individual and societal risk factors and everyone experiences life in different ways. There’s no simple answer to the question, ‘how do I know if someone is struggling?’, but there could be some clues to look out for. Starting the conversation is the important first step, but that in itself can feel daunting. Here’s some suggestions:

  • You’re not going to do any harm by asking someone how they’re feeling: It’s easy to put off difficult conversations, for fear of what you might hear, but just showing that you care can make a huge difference.
  • Time and space: When you’ve resolved to reach out, put aside time and space for a proper conversation, that doesn’t feel rushed. Turn off distractions and give someone your undivided attention.
  • Ask twice: When you ask someone ‘how are you?’ it’s likely they’ll be polite and say ‘I’m ok’.  So ask again…‘are you really ok?’.
  • The key is to listen: Once you’ve started the conversation, give the person you’re supporting time to speak. Don’t dive in with your ideas or solutions – just listen and give them space.

Those wanting to build skills to support others could also explore Mental Health First Aid training. Building knowledge and destigmatising mental health provides more supportive environments and develops individual confidence to offer support.

Creative Freedom was established in 2018 to change the conversation about mental health in the cultural sector. We are one of the only organisations in the UK offering Mental Health First Aid training targeted specifically at the creative and cultural sectors, led by those with direct experience of working in the sector. We deliver whole-organisation training as well as training days where individuals can join a small group of peers to learn together.

We have courses running from 25 – 28 Feb, 25 – 28 Mar and 26 – 29 Apr 2021, that anyone can join. For a group of 8 or more, we’ll put on course just for you! Find out more at: www.creative-freedom.org

A pair of hands outstretched, holding a small yellow flower between them.
Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash.
A personal account of the pandemic

Scott Blair, a freelance cinema & film festival consultant, discusses his experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has been a really turbulent time for me. Before the crisis began, I was in the early months of managing a newly opened, small independent cinema in Edinburgh. I was incredibly proud of the work I was doing in supporting the running of a new cinema. But then the pandemic hit, our doors closed and I, along with the cinema’s other staff, was eventually made redundant. As much as I understand this decision, it was incredibly devastating for me and the beginning of a turbulent series of events within my life.

I decided to set myself up as a freelancer in film exhibition under the banner of The Unbound Screen, I took on a temporary Christmas job at a toy shop, which ended early due to lockdown, and had to deal with other issues such as my own mental health, rent, bills and Universal Credit, to name a few. I have now decided to head back to university, and am studying an MA in Arts, Festival and Cultural Management with the hope of enhancing my skills and building experience to take into a post-COVID cinema industry.

I’d be lying if I said I was calm or cool throughout this time. I’ve been scared, anxious, stressed and have struggled with sleep. But I have also learned a lot, and there have been things which have really helped me during this difficult period.

I’ve learned not to worry too much about going off-course with my goals or dreams. It’s my ambition to work in cinema exhibition, helping to manage or programme a cinema or film festival and creating amazing experiences for audiences. I know that at the moment, that’s a difficult thing to do. When you have to worry about keeping yourself financially afloat and healthy, it’s okay to put things on hold or change direction. There’ll be opportunities to come for what I love doing and the most important thing for me right now is self-care, whether that be working in a different industry to keep earning or just taking a break to look after my own mental health.

Connecting with people within our sector, through digital spaces and conferences, has been a great opportunity for me to grow and learn from others. One big positive from the pandemic is that it’s given me some time to engage with the plethora of resources out there, giving me the opportunity to enhance my skills and hopefully come out of this crisis for the better.

I’ve also found social media really helpful in understanding I’m not alone. Though it can be difficult sometimes to relate with others, there will be people that understand your position and, with organisations such as the Film & TV Charity and others, there is support out there for us.

Further resources

Thank you to all the contributors to this piece. If you’d like to get in touch, you can email us at info@independentcinemaoffice.org.uk.

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