Nine out of 10 working in TV, film and cinema experience mental ill health

Almost nine in 10 people working in the UK’s film, TV and cinema industries say they have experienced a mental health problem, according to research by the think-tank The Work Foundation.

The study was published before the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic led to cinemas being closed and the work of many in the industry coming to a sudden halt.

As many who work in film, TV and cinema are also self-employed and therefore will only receive government support from June, at best, the likelihood is the uncertainty of the pandemic has only exacerbated anxiety and mental ill health within the industry.

The Work Foundation research, commissioned by The Film and TV Charity, concluded that some 87% of those working in the UK’s film, TV and cinema industries had experienced a mental health problem. This was in stark contrast to the estimated two in three (65%) in the UK population who say the same, it said.

The report, The Looking Glass, is believed to be the first study of its kind into the mental health and wellbeing of the UK’s film, TV and cinema workforce.

It identified a number of contributing factors at the root of the issue, ranging from lack of control over working hours and intense pressure both on and off set through to loneliness and widespread bullying and harassment.

The report was a result of a 12-month project by the foundation involving in-depth interviews, a survey of more than 9,000 industry professionals and engagement with an industry forum.

Key findings included that workers within the industry were twice as likely to experience anxiety compared to the national average, were three times as likely to report having self-harmed as the national average, and more than half of workers in the industry had considered taking their own life (compared to one fifth nationally) and one in 10 had actually attempted to do so.

The study highlighted a number of important factors it argued were contributing to the industry’s poor mental health outcomes. These were:

  • Long working hours. One in eight in the industry was working in excess of 60 hours per week, compared with one in 50 in other industries. This was exacerbated by a lack of control over the hours they work, which more than half of respondents (57%) felt had a negative impact on their wellbeing.
  • Lack of work-life balance. More than two-thirds (78%) said they struggled to strike a balance with commitments outside of work (compared to 27% in other industries).
  • Workplace bullying. More than eight out of 10 (84%) people working in film, TV and cinema said they had experienced or witnessed bullying or harassment at work.
  • Mental health stigma. Only 7% said they would approach a manager with a mental health issue, falling to just 2% of freelancers.
  • Poor outcomes of reporting mental health problems. Only a quarter (28%) said discussing their mental health had improved the situation. More than half (54%) said it had made no difference and 5% said it had made it worse.
  • Challenging content and vulnerable contributors. Only 16% felt there was sufficient support when working on traumatic stories, only 14% felt there was sufficient support when working with vulnerable contributors.

Heather Carey, research director at The Work Foundation, said: “The film and TV industry is one of the most creative and rapidly growing parts of the UK economy; but the results from the Looking Glass survey paint a concerning picture of working life in this industry.

“Across a range of measures, those working in the sector experience significantly worse mental health outcomes. Our research has surfaced the underlying and interlinked causes – from working conditions and culture, to the capability of the industry to provide support to those that need it most.

“Many of these risk factors are heightened amongst the diverse talent the industry is working hard to attract; and it is particularly concerning, given skill shortages evident in UK film and TV, that 63% of workers have considered leaving the industry because of worries about the impact it has on their mental health.”

Alex Pumfrey, chief executive of The Film and TV Charity, added: “As a cohort, we are committed to working closely together to address the widespread issues, building an industry that has ‘great work’; where people are much better supported, in which bullying and the stigma of mental health are relegated to history; and where working practices take account of the very human nature of our work.

“As the charity supporting the film, TV and cinema workforce we often hear the stories that others don’t. We can no longer shy away from the need for real change.”

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