Issues surrounding mental health and suicide are mentioned in this article. If you feel you might be negatively affected by reading on, please refrain from doing so. Everything contained in this article is from research and personal experience. It is intended for the purposes of education and helping to end the stigma behind mental health issues, particularly in the workplace. I am not a healthcare professional and the thoughts expressed in this piece are my own.
Mental health resources
If you are in any way struggling with your mental health or have concerns for someone else, please, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your GP. I am simply writing from a place of experience. Therefore, if you need real medical advice you must speak to your doctor, call 111, or in the event of an emergency call 999. Furthermore, there are many charities out there that specialise in mental health issues. Here are a few you can get in touch with: Samaritans (https://www.samaritans.org), Mind (https://www.mind.org.uk), Women’s Aid (https://www.womensaid.org.uk), CALM – Campaign Against Living Miserably (https://www.thecalmzone.net). The NHS have an extensive list of charities at your disposal too: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines/
Mental Health Awareness Week
My mum (an incredible primary school teacher) made me aware that it is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week. Therefore, I thought it apt to discuss the mental health of those working in TV and how the industry deals with mental health issues. This is even more prevalent right now because so many of us are out of work and stuck in lockdown. The Film and TV charity states that ‘9 in 10 people working in the industry had experienced mental health problems (compared to 65% of the general population) and that more than half (55%) had contemplated suicide’, since the pandemic began. If you are thinking of beginning a career in the television industry, or you already work in TV, and you have mental health issues, you will be joining lots of other people in the same boat. Working in telly is still manageable even if you have a mental health issue. I work in TV and I have Anxiety and Depression. There are many others too. So, if there is one thing to take from this article it is that you are not alone.
This week coincided with me binging My Shit Therapist, by Michelle Thomas. Purely coincidental, but perhaps a subconscious choice. Thomas describes St Pancras as having ‘more entrances and exits than there are in The Complete Works of Shakespeare’. This image of chaos echoes the similarly frenzied state of her mind. When applied to TV, Thomas’ metaphor works to illustrate not only the fleeting way many join and leave the industry, but also the impact the television world can have on one’s mental health.
I explored the routes into TV in my blog ‘How to get a TV Production Running Job with No Previous Experience’ . Mental health, on the other hand, seems to be a much trickier subject to approach, which in my opinion is down to the stigma that Thomas, amongst others, has attempted to break down. I have in the past, and will continue to now, endeavour to join and even lead the discussion of mental health within TV.
Firstly, if you’re new to telly you might find it difficult to give yourself a break. I found, personally, that I often overworked and put a huge amount of pressure on myself to overperform. I thought taking breaks would make me appear ‘lazy’ and doing unpaid overtime and working very late would be what I needed to make me stand out from the crowd. But is it not enough to simply try your best? Is it not enough to complete the work you have been given to a high standard? What about being proactive on set and making the best cuppas the office has ever had? All these things are brilliant, and you shouldn’t feel you have to put your mental and physical health on the line to secure a second contract.
Harassment and bullying
Harassment and bullying in the workplace are never acceptable and that doesn’t change for TV either. BECTU have a page devoted to explaining what bullying and harassment are: https://bectu.org.uk/topic/bullying-and-harassment/ Bullying and harassment are often more difficult to identify than you might think. It’s not always black and white and that grey area is where people could be getting away with things that they shouldn’t be. There is also a ‘Tacking harassment and bullying at work’ [hyperlink that title with this: https://www.screenskills.com/online-learning/learning-modules/tackling-harassment-and-bullying-at-work/] course run by ScreenSkills that I would highly recommend.
If you feel you are being bullied or harassed in the workplace, you don’t have to stay silent. There will always be a member of your crew that will listen to you and provide advice. Try and speak to the person you directly report to. As a Runner, this should be your Production Manager. If you don’t feel you can speak to them, approach another member of the team that you feel comfortable speaking to. In most cases, if you want something to be done about it, it is usually best to file the report to someone higher up that can make a formal complaint. There are also all of the other resources listed above, in ‘mental health resources’, that you can contact at any time.
This is something that can affect our mental health at work. Unconscious bias are stereotypes or pre-conceived beliefs someone might have about another person. These can be to do with race, religion, age, weight, gender, sexual orientation, cultural background, economic background, and many more. It is important for the TV industry to help eradicate unconscious bias both in its hiring process and in the working environment itself. Therefore, if you feel you have had micro-aggressions made against you or you have been made to feel stereotyped at work, know that it is not OK.
I have often felt inferior in the workplace when someone in a position of power has said, ‘Beth, you don’t need to carry that. Get one of the boys to do it.’ This unconscious bias that I am not strong enough hurts firstly, because it means that I feel my colleagues don’t think I am equipped to carry out my own job properly. And, secondly, because little do they know that I work out in the gym avidly and am actually a very strong person. Therefore, the fact that they think I am weak has often made me feel like all that work at the gym was for nothing.
Of course, this is unacceptable behaviour and should not be tolerated. However, for your own mental wellbeing, there are ways of dealing with unconscious bias. Firstly, know that you can and should, if you feel you want to, make a formal complaint about unconscious bias in the workplace. If you have been in a similar situation before there are two ways to deal with it that I have learnt over time. In regard to my specific example, firstly, think about the reasons why you go to the gym. Surely it is not for other people to realise that you are strong. Is it not for your own mental wellbeing and your love for working out? Therefore, you have nothing to prove. Secondly, if people are making assumptions about you like that, then they are obviously not very rational people.
The unconscious bias course talks about ‘being an ally’. Therefore, if you see anyone else being stereotyped at work, stand up for them. You don’t have to make a big noise about the situation at the time. You can simply take the perpetrator aside and speak to them calmly about their behaviour. If you feel it is appropriate, you can also report the issue to a higher member of staff.
Looking after yourself
I have always been very open about my mental health issues and I hope that those of you reading this feel you have someone who you can talk to about your mental health. If not, I am always here to listen.
I have diagnosed Depression and Anxiety. I have been on medication for my mental health since I was 18. There is nothing wrong with taking medication. However, if you are prescribed it, make sure to take it as prescribed. Set a reminder on your phone to take your pills every day. There is nothing worse than going to work having missed a pill or two and, as a result, feeling rubbish. I have seen this happen to other people and it has happened to me too. If this does happen to you and you feel you cannot carry on with your work that day, then you are completely within your rights to speak to your PM, or whoever is supervising you. Let them know that you need to go home because your mental health is suffering and that you will keep them in the loop about how you are feeling.
A huge number of the workforce in TV are trained in mental health awareness. Therefore, if you are having a bad day, or feel you want someone on your team to know about an issue you have been encountering concerning your mental health in the workplace, then please know that there will always be someone there for you to speak to about this. Even if you just want to take five minutes to get some fresh air or have a cup of tea by yourself. It is far better to look after your mental health and sacrifice that short amount of time to do so, rather than allowing it to spiral out of control, which could negatively affect you even more in the long run.
What to take from this
In an ideal world, Mental Health Awareness Week would not be necessary: we would always be aware of the fragility of the human mind and endeavour to be sympathetic and patient with those that may be struggling. Of course, we live in a trying society that might not be quite as progressive as we would like it to be. But you have now read my thoughts on the subject. Why not note down your own? Why not have a chat with a friend or colleague about how they are feeling? Keep the conversation going and don’t forget, you are not alone.