Mental health, yes, I’ll go there, is a trending topic of discussion – in society at large and naturally in the advertising and film industries. And yet, on the ground, it looks like a secret subject, with a fear of what it could do to your reputation and therefore your next job offer.
On screen, brands are committed to aligning themselves with the cause and encouraging consumers to pay attention to how they feel. Many companies and agencies are also having conversations and implementing support programs. But in production in particular – an industry I’ve been in for 15 years and producing for 12 – we’re light years behind.
A lot of people I work with are naturally cautious when it comes to talking or talking at all when it comes to mental health. Although society has made progress in its attitudes towards mental health, particularly around issues such as anxiety and depression, there is still a strong stigma attached to these issues in production.
In my experience, the way the production industry works means it’s easy for these issues to arise, proliferate, and be pushed aside, because getting the job done (and getting it done on time) is priority. How bad are things really? There is no direct production research in advertising, but The Film and TV Charity has conducted research involving people working behind the scenes in film, television and film, from which we can extrapolate some facts.
The charity made to find than in previous years there was more of an open conversation about mental health in 2021. Another positive was the ongoing production boom in the UK, but that comes with a negative as 78 % of survey respondents noted that work intensity, such as longer hours, had a negative effect on their mental health, up from 63% in 2019. Only 10% of all respondents agreed that the industry was a healthy environment in which to work – a frankly shocking statistic, considering how many people the industry employs. One positive was the APA’s recommendations to keep shooting hours to 12 hours a day and not to budget and plan further in the bidding process to help reduce demands from production crews and to preserve the well-being of the team.
Covid didn’t help either. Not everyone could easily switch to virtual production, the fear of not being rehired or having a reputation for things like missing work and not working overtime is very real. This is where I see the biggest disparity – no one would bat an eyelid if someone called and said they couldn’t get in due to a broken arm or even the aforementioned covid. I have yet to see anyone cite their mental health as a reason for missing work.
We’re all pretty comfortable discussing mental health in abstract terms, but no one wants to be the one to stand up and associate themselves with one of the myriad mental health issues we know exist.
I myself have gone through periods where I struggled with my own mental health and in particular experienced a kind of burnout in early 2020 at the start of the pandemic and the first confinement. The silver lining here was that I had the time and space to work on what I was going through, to process it, without it affecting my work.
It’s a statistical impossibility that no one in production has a problem they’re facing at any given time; Mind reports that in the UK one in four people will face a mental health problem every year. The production people are no different, which means we’ve all been around someone in trouble, or we’ve been in trouble ourselves. If the average production has a crew of 45-65 people per day, that means that at the bottom of the scale, 11.2 crew members (out of 45) are handling something. It’s a whole department or all the HODs!
And believe me, there have been many times on set or at jobs where I thought about taking the first flight to Acapulco because the pressure of stress got to me, but I had to find a way to dig deep and keep going, and that’s a lot easier said than done.
A matter of gender
There is another elephant in the room that we need to tackle when it comes to mental health and production. It’s still largely a white male-dominated industry (a matter that needs its own discussion) and men are far less vocal about their issues than women. Again, I can only speak for myself, my male peers, and the culture we’ve inherited from previous generations, but it’s obvious to me that we’ve been socialized not to talk about the emotional aspects of our lives – and certainly not at work. While that’s changing for Gen Z, it’s not changing fast enough for everyone.
All UFC fans may recall recently that Paddy Pimblett gave a moving speech about men’s mental health and the need to speak up after losing one of his best friends to suicide. It’s so refreshing to see this in such a masculine testosterone-driven sport that, you might say, resembles the production industry.
With that in mind, the production becomes a perfect microcosm for mental health issues to breed. The pressure, the hours, the fear of not finding another job leads to more repression and more shame because we worry about the potential consequences. About how we will be perceived in terms of “admitting our weaknesses”.
If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that we’re all much more similar than we think, all susceptible to the same strengths, and we could all empathize more with each other. And it’s good to talk a lot more than you think. To be honest, I don’t know what change looks like for the production industry when it comes to mental health – it’s a complex issue that needs to be addressed on a macro and micro scale. Maybe we could start by taking a moment before each shoot and repeating that if someone isn’t feeling well – physically or mentally – they can take a break or leave, and we can offer support.
Maybe we should all start sharing the mental health issues we’ve faced in the past, or even now. It sounds a little utopian, but any step in the right direction will start to ease the pressure and the feeling of isolation that I know many of us feel. It’s not a perfect solution, but we have to start somewhere.
So the next time someone sees me on set or in a meeting, in the words of Paddy “If you’ve got weight on your shoulders for some reason, talk to someone, talk to n’ whoever. I’d rather have you cry on my shoulder than go to your funeral. But let’s end on a less gloomy note; re-read the above. And let’s keep talking…
#Mental #health #screen #camera #LBBOnline