by Sam Kurd.
Working in the entertainment industry can be an extremely taxing job. The hours are often long, and the work relies on a great deal of personal investment which can be both physically and mentally draining. This is often true of all steps in the process, but especially with writing. Every writer has probably at one time or another experienced a long session of lonely scribbling followed by intense bouts of networking and creative collaboration which can really deplete your energy reserves.
That’s why the prospect of working in the film industry can feel incredibly daunting and intimidating to those who suffer from mental health problems like depression and anxiety. After all, a large part of screenwriting is selling yourself and your work, and this can often feel impossible when you’re convinced that neither of these is worth much at all.
The important thing to remember is that you are not alone. A recent survey commissioned by the Film and TV Charity found that nearly 90% of professionals in the UK film and television industry struggle with their mental health at work. 90%. That’s a staggering number, much higher than you would think. It’s a tough industry built on freelancing, so remember when you’re speaking with, a director or producer, and who may seem scary because you see them as an authority figure, the odds are they struggle just the same as you. They doubt themselves too, and they share your fears.
Thankfully, there are some great people and organizations that can help. There are resources you can turn to, and there’s therapy & counseling available from people who know the industry. Let’s take a look at some of those available.
The Film & TV Charity Hotline
The Film & TV Charity has been around since the dawn of cinema, supporting members of the UK film industry across the decades. They recently made headlines for providing advice and financial support for those affected by the COVID-19 crisis, but perhaps less well-known is their free 24/7 helpline for those who are struggling and need to reach out to someone who’ll understand.
Regardless of whether your problems have been brought on by the recent disruption or if you’ve been suffering for a while, this is somewhere you can turn to for help, for advice, or for counseling.
Think of it as like the Samaritans but staffed by people who’ll understand the film industry and your problems within that context. They can also offer legal and financial advice if needed, and if a phone call is too daunting you can do a live chat or send an email.
They also recently partnered with Big White Wall to provide access to their mental health platform, an online community where you can discuss your problems openly and anonymously among peers. They offer support groups and one-one chats, along with self-help resources and courses to help with managing depression & anxiety. It’s a 24/7 platform and completely free to access.
Film in Mind
Film in Mind is an organization that offers counseling and therapy to members of the UK film industry. Psychotherapist Rebecca Day is also a documentary filmmaker and so perfectly understands the pressures involved with working in the industry.
She offers individual therapy for a range of issues, but also offers group therapy for cast and crew as well a consultation service for productions that might pose a mental health risk to their workers. If your film has a dark or troubling subject and your cast and crew might be put through the wringer as a result, Film in Mind can help mitigate and minimize the impact and keep everyone safe. It’s a paid service (Rebecca is a qualified counselor and this is her living, after all) but it is extremely affordable and she offers reduced rates for students and those on a low income, so certainly worth it.
ArtsMinds is a collaboration formed between four entertainment industry organizations (Equity, Spotlight, The Stage, and BAPAM) to combat the rising mental health crisis across the industry, as well as the general stigma that surrounds talking about your mental health. They collect stories that prominent creatives have shared about their own struggles and journeys, showing us that even the people we admire who may seem to have everything sorted out are often suffering in the same way that we are. Crucially, though, they offer an exhaustive list of links to resources and advice and organizations across the web who can help with anything from anxiety and depression, career stress, financial problems, or relationship difficulties. Just choose your topic and they’re ready to help you reach out.
The British Film Institute need no introduction – they’re a cultural institution and provide funding and assistance for a great many British filmmakers. While they don’t have an initiative set up specifically to help with filmmakers’ mental health, they are fully committed to diversity and inclusion and so will do everything they can to help where possible, including supporting the aforementioned Film & TV Charity COVID Relief Fund. They also have this page of advice from Rebecca Day on how to manage your mental health while things are still topsy turvy.
Screenskills are an organization dedicated to developing the skills of filmmakers at all stages of their career, from entry-level to advanced and those returning to the industry after some time away. They offer mentorships, short courses, trainee programs, open doors events, online workshops, and bursaries to help those in need. If you have financial problems exacerbating your condition, perhaps you can apply for a bursary that would take some of the pressure off and give you some breathing room while you work on other parts of the problem. The bursary can be for software or hardware you might need, or to pay for online courses or travel to face-to-face events once the COVID restrictions are lifted. Keep an eye on their Opportunities page because there are often free Q&A sessions on managing mental health. As with the BFI, they also have a page of advice on managing your well-being as a freelancer in an uncertain industry.
I hope by signposting these resources we have helped when everything feels like it’s too much to handle. When it all builds up and can become a huge wall in your mind. The film industry is on one side of the wall, with all your hopes and dreams of success, and you’re on the other side.
Hopefully, it helps to know that there are people out there who have the same problems and that the industry cares and is trying to help. There are people who know you have the strength within you to scale that wall, and who want to help you knock it down to size.
These organizations won’t judge you for needing help, because they recognise that we can all have times in our lives when we struggle. Having that knowledge might not stop you worrying about it, but with help it’s something that can be managed, and if not beaten then at least controlled.
And it’s getting better – The Film & TV Charity are spearheading The Whole Picture Programme, aimed at ensuring an industry-wide improvement in mental health support.
We’re not alone, and together we’ll make it through.
Sam Kurd is a professional film festival programmer and an experienced and passionate writer. Equally comfortable working with screenplays or prose, fiction, or non-fiction Sam writes because he must and because he believes there’s no greater accomplishment in life than making a reader or audience experience new emotions.