Mental health is being talked about more openly in all walks of life, and its value and importance is widely recognised.
The term ‘mental health’ encompasses emotional, psychological and social wellbeing.
A person’s mental health impacts their thoughts, feelings and behaviour, and determines how well they respond to stress and challenges.
The Film and TV Charity’s Looking Glass survey has found that workers in the film and TV sector report lower levels of mental health than the UK average and are often reluctant to seek support at work.
Barriers to mental health conversations on productions
As leaders, it’s important to be aware why people may not seek help, so you can put measures in place to breakdown such barriers.
Stigma or fear of not getting further work may be reasons, but less obvious factors will also create reluctance, such as power imbalances.
As an employer or manager, it’s crucial to consider potential barriers when talking with your team about mental health, and to offer support options.
Mental Health at Work’s glossary of terms can be helpful when discussing mental health.
Factors on mental health at work
The demands of the film and TV industry could have a significant impact on the mental health of your team.
While some pressure can be good for us, excessive pressure can lead to workplace stress and then poor mental health and performance.
Potential barriers to good mental health at work include:
- Long working hours
- Lack of work/life balance
- Poor job design or lack of role clarity
- Unachievable workloads
- A poor relationship with a manager or team members
- Bullying, harassment and discrimination
- A lack of control or autonomy at work
- Exposure to distressing content
- Supporting vulnerable contributors
To understand more, you may want to look at the Health and Safety Executive’s Management Standards on workplace stress.
Also see how these stress factors should be considered with a mental health risk assessment (MHRA).
A manager’s role in mental health
Managers are essential to monitoring the mental health and wellbeing of their teams and can be the first to notice signs of challenges.
Key signs to look for are:
- Changes in behaviour
- Changes in mood, appearance, or levels of anxiety or stress
- Changes in performance and productivity
- Increased irritability and difficult working relationships
- Lack of engagement with work or colleagues, or simply being quieter
- Increase in physical health complaints
- Underlying health issues becoming more severe
- Taking more time off work or overworking (spending excessive time in work)
Talking to your team about mental health
One of the biggest barriers to tackling poor mental health in the film and TV industry is overcoming stigma.
Managers should ensure that their culture is proactively inclusive, trusting and transparent, so people feel safe to talk openly about their wellbeing.
- Be clear from the start that you wish to support team mental health and wellbeing
- If comfortable, talk about your own wellbeing. This can help to normalise the conversation and create a trusting environment where people can disclose personal information.
- Model healthy behaviours, such as taking breaks, connecting with family or leaving on time
- Share and discuss the production’s wellbeing plan. If you don’t have one, see our guide on how to discuss and agree your production wellbeing plan.
- Identify pressure points during production with the team
- Ask the team how they would like to be supported
- Schedule regular check-ins and encourage the team to feedback openly
Talking to individuals about mental health
Early intervention when someone is in distress can allow them to recover before it becomes a fully fledged mental health issue.
A manager will often be the first point of contact if someone is experiencing a mental health challenge.
It’s important to develop compassionate and effective relationships, so your team feel safe talking to you.
If you need to start a conversation about mental health, use the following techniques to make it open, trusting and effective:
Prepare and build trust
Schedule a 1:1 with the individual in a quiet, private space. If you’re working remotely, consider ways to ensure privacy and schedule in advance where possible.
Don’t keep rescheduling the meeting as this can increase anxiety and could imply that the conversation isn’t important.
These conversations should remain confidential – be transparent if you need to seek additional advice or escalate an issue due to safeguarding concerns.
To reduce any unhelpful power dynamics and create a warm environment:
- Position yourself equally (that is, not behind a big desk)
- Keep your body language open and relaxed
- Maintain comfortable eye contact
- Use a warm and calm tone of voice
- Validate their emotions and experiences
- Don’t dominate the meeting or push advice – listen
- If working remotely, silence notifications – don’t multi-task or type to others
Ask open questions
Asking open questions can encourage people to open up.
Consider the following guidance when using this technique:
- Your intention should be to listen and reflect on the answer
- Open questions can’t be answered with a yes or a no
- They start with why, how, what or describe
- Ask one question at a time – avoid multiple questions
- Don’t make assumptions or seek to diagnose crew members – we’re all unique and have our own experiences and are experts in our own mental health
Examples of open questions include:
- How are you thinking/feeling about this?
- What’s making things feel hard right now?
- What would the ideal situation look like for you?
- What support could I offer you?
- What would be a good first step?
Use active listening
Active listening can help people to feel heard and understood, and includes the following techniques:
- Listen in order to understand rather than to give advice
- Embrace silence – don’t jump to fill it or guess at words
- Maintain comfortable eye contact, nod, lean forward and smile
- Don’t get distracted by phones, emails or interruptions
- Give people time as they may not be able to tell you everything at once
- Listen to more than their words – consider their:
- Tone of voice
- Body language
- Facial expressions
- Overall mood
An emergency response may be needed if someone remains extremely distressed throughout a conversation, or they share that they intend to harm themselves or someone else.
If something like this happens, take the following steps:
- Don’t be afraid of being direct, and asking, for example, ‘are you considering suicide?’
- If you’re worried about their safety or risk to others, talking to their emergency contact might be a source of quick support.
- If an emergency contact isn’t available, and you feel that someone is at serious and imminent risk of harming themselves, or others, call 999.
Next steps for all conversations
Make sure that you follow up on anything you have said you will do, investigate or change.
Agree the next time you are going to connect with the individual and make sure you schedule this call or meeting.
Tools to support mental health conversations
Signposting someone towards a specific expert or service is a key support technique.
Receiving expert support early can lead to greater confidence in managing challenges and faster recoveries.
Ensure you direct people to services that are relevant to their specific challenge or mental health problem, and provide reassurance that everyone needs support sometimes.
You should also provide details on how you can be contacted following the conversation, if needed.
Reasonable adjustments are proportionate actions you can take to provide support.
Employers are legally required to offer these under the Equality Act 2010 if an employee is Disabled.
A mental health condition would be a disability if it’s long term (has lasted or is likely to last for at least 12 months) and has a significant impact on an individual’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities.
Adjustments are unique to an individual’s needs, and crew should lead on making decisions and reviewing any support required to enable them to perform their role.
Examples of adjustments are:
- Working hours: review whether these can be adapted or condensed
- On location: ensure someone has time to connect with family and friends
- Working patterns: consider breaks and shifts, especially for night shoots
- Workload: consider job share and/or reallocation of tasks
- Support from others: offer coaching or mentoring
- Minimising noise: have quiet spaces, and reduce exposure to scenes with loud noise
- Access to daylight: encourage walks, and offer SAD lamps and access to windows
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has a helpful online guide that provides further information on reasonable adjustments for mental health.
As we regularly review Toolkit content, if you have any suggestions to improve this guide, or any part of the site, we would love to hear from you.