Updated: Jan 27
By Leo Anna Thomas, Director of 6ft From CIC
The CREATION OF 6FT FROM THE SPOTLIGHT and #MENTALHEALTHINFILM
In 2015 I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and had been introduced to Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). I realised that some of the techniques I had been taught could be used to lower stress and the emotionally charged atmosphere on set that I was experiencing, as well as witnessing around me. In 2017 I lost a friend and colleague, Alan MacDonald (Production Designer) to suicide and a year later, a few months after the first anniversary, lost another friend and colleague, Morag Webster (Unit Nurse) to suicide. Having now spent 19 years in the industry, and having decided to leave the industry in 2009, due to having experienced bullying and a mental breakdown, it was these two life changing events that acted as the catalyst for change.
In 2018 I attended my first Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England training (recently retrained in 2020) and, along with the skills from DBT, had an idea for there to be a new role inserted into the crew. A Wellbeing Facilitator (WBF) was slowly forming shape.
Working as a Standby Art Director I decided to make my own t-shirts, showing all crew and cast I was a MHFA, and started developing this new role on my next three productions (‘His Dark Materials’, ‘Trigonometry’ and ‘Small Axe’).
With support from colleagues working in film and TV, I was put in touch with Matt Longley, Co-Founder of 6ft From the Spotlight; a not for profit, Community Interest Company and created 6ft From CIC under the moniker ‘6ft From the Spotlight’.
Matt and I decided to join forces. Subsequently, we were both invited to help with the Film and TV Charity’s industry forum, which helped to propose solutions following the ground-breaking survey ‘Through The Looking Glass’.
By this time the team at 6ft had strengthened with the addition of myself being added to the board of directors, along with Michelle White who is a qualified Positive Psychologist with 15 years’ experience at the BFI, Jude Spencer, a Mental Health First Aid Trainer and Camise Oldfield a film Graphic Designer who sits on the BECTU diversity and Inclusion committee with me.
Each director on the board of 6ft has helped cover many areas of importance, such as training more MHFA’s, understanding and teaching evidence based only skills and techniques, working with the Health and Safety Executive, covering the Health and Safety work act, the law and mental health risk assessments.
“The cost to business of poor mental health is well evidenced, as is the return on investment associated with early intervention on workplace mental health. In an industry driven by talent, the finding that vast swathes of the existing workforce – particularly the diverse talent the industry is working so hard to attract – are considering leaving because of poor mental health is a serious and pressing concern.” (The Looking Glass Report: Film and TV Charity; London, February 2020)
In February 2020, The Film and TV Charity published ‘The Looking Glass’, a report highlighting the results of a survey of the mental health and wellbeing of over 9000 workers in the UK Film and TV sector.
The evidence was stark:
87% of workers had suffered mental ill health
55% of workers in the industry had considered taking their own lives (as opposed to 20% in the general UK population.)
The industry had identified a serious mental health crisis in its workers which set medics alone were not equipped or trained to deal with. Then COVID-19 hit. Due to COVID-19 the prevalence of mental health issues has increased by 8.1% (Public Health England) with 80% of people with an existing condition reporting a fall in wellbeing due to the pandemic. Urgent and decisive action is required to address the worsening mental health crisis in the Film and TV industry.
The causes of the mental health crisis are multiple, long hours, a woeful work life balance, bullying, harassment, lack of support to name a few.
A multitude of solutions are needed.
The WELLBEING FACILITATOR (WBF)
A WBF is a third party, highly trained presence on set whose role is to stem and reverse the tide of mental ill health. The role has a unique dual purpose:
1) Advise producers and heads of department on how to prevent stress and mental health issues and meet their legal duty of care to the crew and cast
2) Robustly support all crew and cast with their own mental health and wellbeing on set.
6ft From CIC train and mentor WBF’s to support the production to maintain best employment practice, drive high performance levels, de-escalate challenging situations and advise on mental health risk. The result? The sustainable and ethical delivery of outstanding creative content.
The role has been successfully deployed on productions such as His Dark Materials, The Lost Girls and Small Axe and is due to be used on ‘Pretty Red Dress’, BFI, ‘This Way Up’, C4 and an NBC Universal UK production.
In July 2020, myself, Michelle and Matt set about dissecting the elements of the new role of Wellbeing Facilitator. The development was helped by a grant from the Film and TV Charity’s BAME Community grant in September 2020 which provided for the training of 5 crew members to be WBFs who underwent the 5-day, multi-module training package covering:
A) Mental Health and Wellbeing Module
Learning how to prevent issues developing in the first place, how to spot the signs of mental illness early and how to support those with new or existing conditions in the production. This element includes both Mental Health First Aid and the Royal College of Psychiatrists accredited “i-act” Managing and Promoting Positive Mental Health and Wellbeing course both tailored for the creative industries.
B) Health and Safety and the Law Module
One of the knowledge areas that is severely lacking in the industry is the understanding of how health and safety law views mental health. The health and safety at work act (1974) is explicit that employers have an obligation to protect the mental health of ALL workers. In addition, section 3 of the act provides that a commissioning entity still has a duty of care for workers employed by any subcontract companies that it uses.
This module discusses the law and how to perform stress and mental health risk assessments to control the risks on set.
C) Positive Psychology Module
Psychological safety on set is a critical concept and this module takes the participants through what causes stress, how to avoid it and how to coach productions to create a psychologically safe environment that enables highly efficient and creative working.
Each of the modules can be run independently to broaden the knowledge of Senior crew especially Producers, Line Producers and Heads of Department.
The WBF NETWORK.
Being a Wellbeing Facilitator is about continual learning and hence further training and development is encouraged and supported. This includes Cruse Bereavement care and ASIST suicide intervention training.
All WBFs are supported with the backing of clinical psychologists and have a peer network where they can support each other and find solutions to any more difficult issues.
The New Year will see the second cohort of WBFs trained and a series of courses aimed at Producers and leaders in the industry. The aim being to increase awareness of how productions can better protect the mental health and wellbeing of all the wonderful people on set.
The next series of full WBF courses runs in early 2021 but the individual modules can be run to suit groups or teams. The i-act Manging Mental health course is available every other Friday and MHFA once per month.
Please check the website or get in touch for more information and to arrange training.
At 6ft From the Spotlight we believe that we are all stronger together hence we are working closely with other industry groups to create an inclusive, diverse, sustainable industry that looks after its brilliant, creative workforce. No one should be hurt doing what they love, let alone be driven to the point where they feel that the only way out is to end their own life.
In Nov 2019, Matt and I started recording podcasts as ‘Mental Health in Film’ to highlight issues of mental health across the creative industries. We started with an information series discussing stress in the industry, how the Wellbeing Facilitator might work in a production and what the law says about protecting mental health. When Covid-19 hit in March we added a series of interviews with figures from the creative industries including U2’s Creative Director, Willie Williams. The podcast shed light on personal struggles and how crew have made themselves resilient. The second season is currently in production and will feature more interviews and information.