If you’re a crew member who engages with sensitive content – at any production stage – there are key steps you can take to help protect your own wellbeing.
You might not initially feel these are important, however, exposure to sensitive content is known to detrimentally impact wellbeing.
The Film and TV Charity’s Looking Glass survey found that only 15% of those working on challenging content felt sufficient support was available.
Types of sensitive content
Sensitive content can take many forms, such as:
- Themes of sexual abuse, racism, bereavement and terrorism
- Depictions of violence or torture
- Shooting psychologically or emotionally distressing scenes
- Natural disasters
- Mental health, illness and suicide
- Crime and punishment
- Locations such as morgues, prisons, hospitals and abattoirs
- User-generated content, archive videos or imagery
- Contributors’ experiences, which can be difficult or challenging
Impact of working with sensitive content
Workers in film and TV have reported various ways in which sensitive content has impacted them.
This includes feelings triggered by difficult emotions and distress, or over-identifying with content – resulting in feeling anger, sadness or guilt.
In some cases, frequent exposure to violent imagery has been linked to depression and anxiety.
These findings mean that, if you work with anything that could be deemed as sensitive content, you should be taking steps to protect your wellbeing and prevent negative impacts.
Duty of care
The legal duty of care means that production companies and producers must take reasonable steps to ensure that everyone associated with them is fully protected from physical or psychological harm.
On sensitive content, this means productions must take reasonable steps to limit your exposure to such content, and work with you and your needs to mitigate psychological or emotional harm.
It’s important that you’re aware of sensitive content you might be exposed to before a production begins.
Ensure you have a good overview of the research, themes, locations, images, scenes and contributors you’re likely to be involved with.
- Self-awareness: Know your own triggers – what’s likely to distress you?
- Themes and content: Read the script/treatment to understand the themes being explored.
- Locations: Pay attention to locations you’ll need to visit.
- Call sheets and briefings: Be aware of sensitive content briefings and trigger warnings.
- Contributors: Are you working with vulnerable contributors with difficult stories?
- Repetition: How often might you be exposed to sensitive content?
If you don’t feel you have sufficient information to get an overview of sensitive content, ask your head of department (HoD) or manager for help.
For example, if you don’t have access to scripts as part of your role, ask leaders to provide information about upcoming scenes that may be challenging – and, make them aware of any triggers that are known to you.
If they’re unsure how to help, they can use our Toolkit guide: Support those working with sensitive content.
Manage and limit your exposure to sensitive content
Research revealing the mental health risks to those repeatedly exposed to traumatic content highlights how support can be crucial in managing any impact.
Identify any factors that will support you in managing and limiting exposure to content that is sensitive for you.
There are a range of self-support options you could try at any production stage:
- Briefings: Look out for sensitive content briefings from the production team.
- Meaning: Connect to the wider context of the project and what it means to you.
- Ask: If you’re unclear on how you can manage your exposure to sensitive content due to current ways of working, or what support is available on your production, ask your manager or HoD for guidance.
- Breaks: Take regular breaks and have a lunch break.
- Wellbeing: Look after yourself, with healthy meals, regular movement and adequate sleep.
- Talk: If you feel sad, triggered or anxious, talk with a trusted colleague.
- Use expert support: Does the production have support roles such as mental health first aiders?
- Connect: Maintain external connections with friends and family.
- Get different perspectives: Engage with hobbies and interests outside of work.
Self-supporting actions for common areas of risk
There are specific actions you could take while working:
If challenging themes are explored in the writers’ room, such as emotional abuse:
- Look out for sensitive content briefings/trigger warnings.
- Consider whether you can be safely involved.
- Talk to someone trusted who could support you in the room if needed.
- Take your lunch break in a different location.
- Seek out a support role such as a mental health first aider or wellbeing facilitator.
Dealing with locations
If a location that is distressing to you is being scouted, such as a funeral parlour:
- Make your HoD aware.
- Consider whether you can safely attend.
- Take a break if you need to.
- Seek out a support role to join you, such as a mental health first aider or wellbeing facilitator.
Coping with challenging scenes
If you’re unexpectedly exposed to a challenging scene, such as one containing violence, and you feel distressed:
- Remove yourself as soon as you can.
- Find a quiet space.
- Seek out your manager or HoD and explain.
- Take steps with your HoD to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
- Talk to someone you trust to emotionally decompress.
- Engage with interests outside of work to aid recovery.
Handling distressing imagery
If you work in post-production and are constantly exposed to distressing imagery:
- Take frequent breaks.
- If you are in a dark room, get natural light as often as possible.
- Suggest rotating crew to reduce frequency of exposure.
- Build distance into how you repeat view images:
- Apply a temporary matte to distressing areas.
- Concentrate on specific details like objects rather than faces.
- Use the loop play function as sparingly as possible.
How to deal with distress if it occurs
It’s important to note that any feelings that arise because you’re working with sensitive content are valid.
For example, if you’re working on a production dealing with domestic abuse, and you find yourself feeling sad or angry or frustrated, this is entirely natural and normal.
Expressing these emotions safely with a friend, peer or trusted colleague can help you to process them.
These feelings should eventually reduce in intensity and pass in a way that feels natural to you.
If they don’t, tell your manager or HoD as soon as possible and seek further help and guidance, which could include support from the organisations listed in the resources below.
The following resources could point you towards experienced mental health providers and support networks:
- Film and TV Charity: Support, guidance and therapy (Support line: 0800 054 0000)
- Mind: Emotional and mental health support
- The Samaritans: Crisis support (Helpline: 116 123)
- PTSDUK: Support and resources for trauma
- Shout: Text messaging service for anyone struggling to cope (Text SHOUT to 85258)
- Anxiety UK: Anxiety support and recovery for anyone affected by anxiety, stress or anxiety-based depression
- No Panic: Anxiety support and recovery for people who live with panic attacks, phobias, OCD and other anxiety-related disorders
For information relating to therapy and diagnoses, also seek guidance from your healthcare system’s services:
- NHS website
- NHS Scotland
- Health and Social Care Northern Ireland
- Health Service Executive Ireland
- NHS Cymru
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.