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In 2022, a survey revealed that only 11% of people working in the UK’s film and TV sectors considered the industry to be a mentally healthy place to work.

 

As the latest iteration of the “Looking Glass” survey is launched, we speak with Rupert Jones-Lee, Head of Research and Impact at the Film & TV Charity, about the mental health challenges faced by those in the film and TV industry.

 

We talk about the reasons behind these mental health struggles, the measures currently being implemented to address them, and the further actions needed to create a healthier work environment.

 

Do you work in the screen sector? You can complete the latest Looking Glass Survey by clicking here.

 

Other links:

https://filmtvcharity.org.uk/get-support/support-for-organisations/the-whole-picture-toolkit/

 

Content Warning

There is a brief reference to statistics around suicidal ideation.

Follow @livelymindspod on X, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and more at https://www.bio.link/livelyminds

Please note that this show does not constitute medical advice and is not a replacement for seeking professional help. You can find our more about the show and get signposting to support on our website anyamedia.net/livelyminds

Transcript

W: Just a quick heads up that in today’s show we will be talking briefly about suicidal ideation. Please take care whilst listening and you will find signposting to support in the show notes and also at the end of the programme.

 

 

W: Hi everybody and welcome to the first episode of season three of Lively Minds. As mentioned in the recent update episode we are switching to a monthly schedule and we’ll be releasing a new episode on the first Friday of each month.

 

Please, please do share this episode with friends, rate or review our show on your podcast app and make sure that you are subscribed for future episodes.

 

My name is Will, and you are listening to Lively Minds, the podcast about mental health challenges that go beyond the ebb and flow of the everyday. The podcast that asks how developing our understanding of the mental health challenges we experience influences how we address them.

 

[music]

 

W: It’s just me today, as Ellie can’t make this episode, and I am delighted to welcome to the show Rupert Jones Lee, who is Head of Research and Impact at the Film and TV charity.

 

Hello Rupert and welcome to the show.

 

R: Hello Will, lovely to be here.

 

W: It’s great to have you here and usually I do say if the guest and the host know each other and in our case we do know each other already don’t we Rupert we’ve we have worked together on and off for quite a long time.

 

R: More years than I think either of us care to remember Will, there you go, so that’s full disclosure.

 

W: Indeed, indeed.

 

W: And today we are going to be talking about the struggles that people working in the film and TV industry have with their mental health as evidenced through the Looking Glass surveys which the Film and TV charity has been running since 2019.

 

So we’re going to be discussing some of the reasons why mental health is such a challenge in this industry, what steps are being taken to improve things and also what more needs to be done.

 

So to begin with Rupert, would you be able to begin by just doing a brief introduction to what the Film and TV charity is, your aims and your objectives?

 

R: Yes, sure. So the Film and TV charity kind of does what it says on the tin. It’s a charity for everyone working behind the scenes in film, television and cinema, wherever they are in the value chain and whether they’re employees or freelancers and whether they’re on permanent contracts or temporary. Its, the key thing is it’s not performers, it’s not people in front of the screen, it’s people behind the camera who are making the content. We’ve been going now for a hundred years, we’re celebrating our centenary this year.

 

W: Congratulations!

 

R: Yes, it’s emblazoned right on the front of our building!

 

We started before there was a welfare state and that’s how the charity operated for quite a long time. It was providing support to people who had left the industry or who had become sick or who were simply older and we shifted about five or six years ago to a model which encompassed support for active industry professionals because what we were becoming increasingly aware of was that there was a lot of need amongst people who were working. It wasn’t just simply people who weren’t working, who were in need.

 

We provide support in two kinds of ways and one of them is the kind of things you would expect from a charity. So it’s things like financial support, counselling, legal advice, but we also do work, which is basically about influence and about, I suppose you could describe it as strategic change. It’s sort of making change in cultures and systems, if that doesn’t sound too bland. Trying to build evidence bases, which is why the research work that me and my team do is important within the charity, to build evidence bases to understand the nature of needs, so that we can then work out how to influence and how to drive those systems changes that are as important as the individual support, I think. And the charity operates really around four main pillars. It’s mental health, physical health, financial wellbeing, and all of those things through a lens of equity and social justice because we’re aware that mental, physical and financial wellbeing states are not evenly distributed amongst the industry workforce, and some people facing greater barriers than others. That’s us in a nutshell.

 

W: Thank you. So tell me about the Looking Glass reports.

 

R: The Looking Glass is, I suppose, the industry standard report on mental health and wellbeing amongst people working in film, television and cinema. And we did it because we were getting a lot of calls through our support line, suggesting that there was an abnormally high prevalence of mental health problems amongst people working in the industry and deficits in wellbeing as well.

 

When we started to look for a body of evidence that would allow us to understand that in more detail. We were very surprised to find that there really was almost nothing. There was a very short paper from Australia about the film and television industry there, but it was about four pages. It was a slightly longer report from Ireland looking at the, the, cultural industries as a whole, but nothing substantial and specific to film and television. So we basically wanted to build that, that evidence space. We haven’t really commissioned the reports. We’ve always been instrumental in doing the research ourselves, but we have in previous cases partnered with other organisations. This one, however, is just in-house, or, albeit, of course, we depend on a lot of partnerships with a whole range of industry organisations and support bodies around the industry.

 

The surveys are normally run every other year. We did back-to-back ones in ’21 and ’22. So this survey coming up will be the fourth that we’ve run and it launches on Wednesday the 26th of June and it’ll run for six to eight weeks. It takes about 15 minutes if you answer all the questions, not all the questions are relevant to everyone so some people it’ll be quicker but it is really important. This is an industry standard body of information that people within this country and internationally refer to. The more responses we get the fuller a story we can tell and the better we can protect everyone’s interests. And we have reduced the number of questions from last time. So if you’ve done it before, it’ll be quicker this time.

 

W: And we will of course put a link to the survey in the show notes of the episode. So if anybody is listening who works in the screen industry, er please do er complete the survey so that as Rupert says, there can be the fullest possible picture of the landscape regarding mental health within the screen sectors.

 

Let’s talk for a moment then Rupert about what you found out in the last survey, in the 2022 survey because, I guess the sort of summary that was in the report was that there have been some moves in the right direction, but there’s still a huge amount of work to do.  And the standout figures were that only 11% said that the industry was a mentally healthy place to work. But at the same time, 80% said that they felt that the industry was starting to move in the right direction in terms of becoming better at responding to mental well-being.  Let’s just spend a little moment going over what the main headlines were that you found out in the last iteration of this survey.

 

R: Yeah, I mean that the summary you’ve given is a, is a really good one in terms of getting a handle on the numbers, 11% of people respondents describing the film and television industry as a mentally healthy environment work is arrestingly low, but it was even lower before. So there does seem to have been an improvement between 2019 and 2022 when the last survey took place. A critical thing here will be to understand how the very difficult last 18 months with the backdrop of the production downturn, but also a cost of living crisis and strikes in the industry have, have impacted people’s mental health.

 

Some other headlines from the report were that there had been a small improvement in mental wellbeing scores. We judged those against a well-known scale called the Short Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale. Um that scale runs from 7 through to 35 and the UK average there is 23.6 and we found last time that the average score was 19.7. So, and that had gone up from 19.3 so that’s consistent with the small improvement that you mentioned earlier but it also shows us that the average within our industry is considerably lower than that for the workforce as a whole.

 

W: mmmm

 

R: Fewer people considered leaving the industry due to poor mental health than had been the case, but it was still 60%, which is high. We found that extreme working hours were prevalent but decreasing slightly. One in seven people were still working 61 or more hours a week though, and that was compared to one in 50 in the general population. So again, quite a useful comparison to understand how unusual the film and television industry is. And those work demands continued to have negative effects on people’s personal relationships as well because this is an area that I hope to explore further in the future. But the relationship between people’s domestic lives and their professional lives is something that more research could be done on, certainly and profitably, I think.

 

There were various sort of standout findings that go to sort of systemic problems within the industry. 52% of respondents felt that better line management might positively benefit their wellbeing. There’s a general context of attitudes to mental health and conversations about mental health improving, but there was still a residual stigma. So for example, 51% reported positive attitudes amongst their day-to-day colleagues, but only 41% of people were prepared to disclose a mental health problem. Urm so you’ve got this complex picture which broadly amounts to it is possible to drive change, there is still an awful lot to do and that change is difficult to achieve.

 

W: One of the stats that I had to do a bit of a double take on to be honest was that in the 2022 survey 29% of respondents said that they considered taking their own life during the previous year and I actually found a 2014 study, it was the most recent data I could find which looked at just how common suicidal ideation is in the population at large and it found that 5.4% of the population it had surveyed aged between 16 to 74 had some form of suicidal ideation in a previous year, which means that screen industry workers are more than five times likely than the overall population to experience this. So I think we can probably say that in light of everything else as well, suggests that whilst there are moves in the right direction, there’s still, there is a major issue with mental health still within the screen industries.

 

R: Yes, I would completely agree. And it’s particularly important that we’re able to provide a core robust body of evidence to inform conversation and to inform decision makings to protect people’s wellbeing in relation to these especially sensitive and extreme circumstances which as you observe, do seem to be markedly higher in the screen industries than they are amongst the general population.

 

W: Do you get any sense of how the screen industries compare to other industries across the UK?

 

R: It’s difficult. I mean, we can compare it with the workforce as a whole through things like the Office for National Statistics wellbeing data sets. We can compare results with things like the Short Warwick Edinburgh scale, UCLA Loneliness scale. But the, the truth, I think, is that those sectors which research questions about mental health and well-being tend to be ones where there’s prima facie evidence of a problem in the same way that we were getting evidence through our support line and anecdotal evidence there was an abnormally high prevalence but you tend to find good research in fields like healthcare for example where there are also really serious problems.

 

We worked with MIND extensively on the first survey and they were happy to describe results we were producing as indicative of an epidemic of mental ill health in the industry and that’s actually as telling as any other finding or any hard statistics I think, you know, that a body as reputable as MIND regarded what they were seeing in the film and television industry as, as at epidemic proportions.

 

W: When I first started out in screen way back in the early 2000s I remember that I would say to people that I work in film and you could see their eyes sparkle and they would say “wow that sounds so exciting” and you could sort of see immediately that sort of romantic idea of working in the screen industries, they would say “is there anything that I might have seen?” and I would say “probably not because I generally make films for local authorities and charities” and then you’d sort of see them start to glaze over from that point once it became a little bit less showbiz. The findings in your survey despite, as we keep saying, moves in the right direction, which are really important to note, paints a different picture to I think what the public may think the film and TV industries are like, would you say?

 

R: Yeah, I think a lot of people who don’t have experience of film and television do assume it’s glamorous and exciting and there’s a certain level of truth in that, there’s a certain level of complete and total falseness as well, but what they don’t tend to be aware of perhaps is things like the enormously long hours that people work. The fact that people tend to be promoted within the industry on the basis of technical skill without necessarily being offered any training in how to manage people, they may very well not be aware of how steep some hierarchies are within production and how that might tend to lend itself to problems with bullying and harassment.

 

W: Yep

 

R: All of these things impact the mental health of people who work in the industry, there are many others, but those are the ones that come up again and again in all sorts of pieces of work done by us and other, other researchers around the industry. We did a piece of statistical analysis on one of the recent data sets really to try and find out what was going on underneath the surface and what the key drivers were. And it was really interesting. There were six that stood out more than anything else. One of those was COVID, which obviously was historically specific, but the other ones resonate across the surveys we’ve done. And sort of in ascending order, they were work-life balance, difficulties with finance, workplace culture and communication, lack of career development opportunities in a clear professionalised career development path, but overwhelmingly the most important, and this, this top factor outweighed all of the other ones put together was loneliness. Loneliness was a felt lack of connection. And that’s telling us something really important, I think, about the nature of working in the industry, typically on short-term projects, then end abruptly, where intense relationships end quickly, people have periods of downtime, then it all starts again. So that’s something that we’re looking at trying to understand more thoroughly with this report, because it’s the first time we’ve done a report since we had those results. That will be very interesting to understand. And as, perhaps a lot of your listeners will be aware, loneliness is an increasingly important topic in discussions about public health from a number of perspectives, but there’s very little in relation to the screen industry so hopefully this is something where we can fill in a missing piece and really help drive a conversation forward to, to help people help each other better.

 

W: That’s really fascinating that that was reported more than all the others combined.

 

R: It was very much not what we were expecting, but it’s like I said it’s more important than the next five factors put together. So, there’s something about the need for community and connection, maybe belonging, that the culture of our industry is not as it currently consists, conducive to. And I suspect it’s probably because of that jumping between very intense artificially, often artificially generated relationships, on project-based work and jumping from one to another or being, you know, just basically in the thick of it and then it all ends. There are a lot of other factors as well. I’m kind of speculating, it’ll be interesting to see what we uncover in the forthcoming survey.

 

[Music]

 

W: Hi everyone its future Will Here. Just to say that Lively Minds is led by people with lived experience of mental health challenges and recorded entirely in their spare time. Please help us out by rating or reviewing our show on your podcast app. Or if you’d rather spread the word in a more low-fi way tell a few people about Lively Minds. It really helps to grow our show. Talking of which lets head back there now.

 

W: So let’s move on to some of the potential solutions for this and what is encouraging is, as you’ve alluded to already, there is a lot of conversation going on in the industry about how we can evolve the screen sector to become more conducive to healthy mental well-being. And through my day job at Beacon Films, we are hopefully going to become part of those conversations as well, we already are to a certain extent.

 

So first of all, Film in TV charity plays a very important role in this. You mentioned you have counselling, you also have a helpline, a 24-hour helpline as well for people.

 

R: Sure, I mean I think the first thing to say is, that this, the challenge of supporting the well-being of people in film, television and cinema industries is well beyond the scope of any one organisation. That means we need to work in partnership, we need to be respectful of and supportive of other, other organisations interventions and efforts here and they’ll still be work left over.

 

Urm, but I mean the work I know best is the work that’s done by the charity and we used the first Looking Glass survey urm published in 2020 to build urm, a three-year program known as the Whole Picture Program and probably the most notable outcome of that is something called the Whole Picture Toolkit for mentally healthy productions, which is a free readily available resource giving really practical useful advice that people on productions can implement to create a mentally healthy environment for their staff and I’ll share a link to that with you Will so you can include that. Although it’s focused on production that many of the lessons are applicable to, to any working environment I think.

 

We also provide more individual one-to-one support through our bullying and harassment service. We also have a work and well-being advisor who focuses in particular on disability but is able to provide complementary support to individual clients who need it.

 

The support line is such an important thing to be aware of because it’s the front door to all our services and it’s how you would escalate people to counselling for example or to financial advice or to legal advice and I will, I will give the number to you to include in information when the podcast is published.

 

That’s a sort of very quick sketch of what we do and you can find out in more detail by looking at our website but this work has been picked up in some really interesting ways by industry professionals and academic practitioners, not just within the UK but internationally. And then there are, there are, a whole bunch of other interventions, a really good one to draw attention to is the BFI’s Good Work Program.

 

W: And just to clarify, the BFI is the British Film Industry,

 

R: The British Film Institute, Yes.

 

W: Which is a public body essentially for film development in the UK.

 

R: That’s absolutely, that’s absolutely right. We’re looking forward very much to seeing what shape that takes, that’s come out of years of work about what it would mean to protect people’s wellbeing from a professional perspective within the industry.

 

W: Film in TV Charity were one of the funders of a report that looked at reducing the standard working day on set as well.

 

R: Yes, that’s, that’s right.

 

W: A report by TimeWise that looked at the implications of reducing the standard working day on set, which typically can be 10 plus hours per day, very long working days. And I thought it was fascinating that 98% of crew that they surveyed wanted a shorter working day of whom 71% would still be interested even if it meant a reduction in pay. Meanwhile, they also found that reducing the working day to a more manageable, I can’t remember what the actual number was, presumably sort of seven or eight hours, was expected to cost between four and nine percent increase in costs, budget costs.

 

R: I mean that’s actually on the upside. The figure lands much closer to 4% and it was really really surprising.

 

W: And also actually just to finish off that as well, even if it does cost 4% or however much more it costs, I guess there’s this other idea which is that what you’d get back in terms of increased productivity due to better wellbeing is of course a really interesting question to ask as well in that sense.

 

R: That, that report, which I would encourage anyone to read, is eye-opening in all sorts of ways. It’s an absolutely fascinating report. The research was done by a body called TimeWise, but it was led by Bectu Vision, which is a branch of the trade union Bectu that’s based in Scotland and we were working with Creative Scotland, which is a national sector body, and BBC, and the film and TV charity, to drive this piece of work over a period of a year, to pilot shorter working hours in abstract on a production. So it wasn’t it’s not an actual pilot, it was kind of a model to pilot. And what we found in that work was, having expected that having an eight hour working day would push costs up by around 20%, which would be very difficult to accommodate, we actually found that the costs were much closer to 4%. We also found that there were all sorts of ways in which the better planning that would be involved in enabling shorter working hours would certainly generate other kinds of savings. A lot of costs and a lot of pressure that falls on people within the industry is to do with a culture of 11th hour decision making and that report is really helpful and I do give full credit here to TimeWise and Bectu Vision for having driven it. That report is really helpful in understanding holistically where shorter working hours might help to provide all kinds of benefits, whether the commercial case and the ethical and wellbeing cases all align in a, in a really compelling way.

 

W: It would also be remiss of me not to mention specific programmes that are around trying to diversify the industry as well, which I think are all connected in with positive wellbeing. So one immediate thing that springs to mind is the TV access project, which is being backed by all the major broadcasters which is all about trying to make production companies and production processes far more accessible for disabled and neurodivergent talent. Why I think it’s really great that that sort of conversation is bubbling away at the same time as we’re having the conversations about how to make the screen industries better for mental well-being is that those two things for me go very much hand in hand, if we can create a sector where everybody feels included, everybody feels safe, everybody feels like their contribution is being valued, then that is something which creates a better environment for everybody.

 

R: Yeah, I completely agree and I think it’s another one where the commercial case, the creative case, and the ethical cases all aligned really well. It’s clear from our research, not just in terms of mental health but also financial wellbeing, for example, the deficits and challenges do correlate to a large extent with certain kinds of barriers. So for example, we find a particularly high prevalence of mental health problems amongst people who identify as neurodivergent. We’re trying to build that body of evidence because again there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence but not that much that’s, that’s statistically robust. But from what we’ve got so far it seems clear that there’s an important correlation with poor mental health. We find for example there’s a very strong correlation between disability and financial hardship. Also people with caring responsibilities, particularly we find people who have caring responsibilities for adult dependents, not necessarily instead of children, but often as well as children with an emerging generation of sandwich carers, as people caring for children and older relatives. Basically these, these impacts are not evenly distributed across the population as a whole, which means that interventions that support those who are facing additional barriers are not just the right thing to do, they’re creatively the right thing to do because of the diversity of thought that they engender and they’re commercially the right thing to do because it means you’re servicing the audience to whom you’re trying to sell a product in the end. And I think when you, when you see those different cases aligning, it’s a fairly strong indication that, that the measure is the right one to pursue.

 

W: It’s worth returning to how you framed it from the very outset, which is that the response to the need to improve mental health kind of comes into those two headings of those more immediate, more individual responses describes some of the stuff that the Film and TV charity does and other partner organisations, but then perhaps the most exciting, yet of course, the more difficult to achieve because of its very nature is the system change stuff that needs to happen. And for me, again, sort of wearing my Beacon Films hat for a moment, that’s where the real excitement is for me, is in that potential, and if the industry can come together as one and actually start asking those questions which is – how do we make this a nice place for everyone to work?

 

[laughter]

 

W: It’s kind of as simple as that really isn’t it?

 

R: That’s the dream. I think what, what i’m sure, what I’m increasingly sure of with time is that you need both approaches, and neither will work without the other. You need the granular, practical, individual support, but you also need that influencing, persuading systems change piece. Neither will work without the other, which is why we operate in the way we do, and we hope we will continue to be able to drive some positive change, but it will absolutely depend on partnership, cooperation, and goodwill. It’s beyond any one organisation to do.

 

W: That is such a brilliant note on which to end.

 

Just to finish off, do you want to just plug the survey one more time and anything else you want to plug?

 

R: I really would. Let’s stick to the survey because that’s my world at the moment.

 

So, yeah, just to repeat, it goes live on Wednesday the 26th of June. The link will be included by Will kindly when the podcast is published. It’ll run for six to eight weeks. We think that the full report will be produced probably end of January, start of February next year, that’s a long time I know, but it is a colossal data set. I mean, it’s a reflection of how rich the data set is. And yeah, I just encourage people to please complete it and share it with anyone you know who’s in the industry. But this, the quality of story we can tell, on the detail we can tell depends on the raw numbers. And that’s particularly so, I think, for people who are based outside London and the South-East of England, where for all sorts of reasons it’s sometimes harder to get responses. We’re finding no difficulty getting responses from freelancers at the moment, although they’re very welcome, but particularly people who are in permanent, employed roles. Very important we hear from them because those people are facing redundancies at the moment as well. We’ve heard a lot and quite rightly about the challenges for freelancers, but it’s not inapplicable for employees either and really important we understand their experience. And if you’re interested in what we do with the findings, just in terms of the reports at least, those are all on our website. Please do go and have a look. This one is likely to be quite a solid report because it is meant to be fifth anniversary one, understanding what’s happened over the last five years, particularly in light of the challenging last 18 months.

 

W: Thank you so much Rupert and thank you for joining us on the show.

 

R: You’re very welcome, it’s been a pleasure Will.

 

W: And to contact the Film and TV Charities 24hour helpline you can call 08000540000 and that number will be in the show notes as well.

 

 

W: Please note that this show does not constitute medical advice and is not a replacement for seeking professional help. You can find signposting to support on our website anyamedia.net/livelyminds. Take care and bye for now

Lively Minds is an Anya Media //// Still Ill OK co-production

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