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With more moments to take pause, I would like to share how far I have come, what achievements have already been accomplished and who has joined me along the way.
When I set up this page there was little awareness, if any, of the mental health crisis within the industry, and the results of the Film & TV Charity Wellbeing survey confirmed this crisis in February 2020. The full report and findings of that survey you can find here https://filmtvcharity.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/The-Looking-Glass-Final-Report-Final.pdf
And if you are in need of emotional and/or financial support, advice and guidance please call there support line on 0800 [phone redacted], available 24/7.
The ambition was, and still is, to help bring about mental health awareness in the film and TV industry, and the drive for change, and for there to be a real duty of care towards freelancers. With my 17 years experience of working directly in film and TV, within the Art Department and now as a Standby Art Director, I, like many others, know the pressures of working life as a freelancer.
Since I returned to the industry, after experiencing a nervous breakdown back in 2009, I have been sharing my journey, verbally at work, as well as, in recent years, via social media (Instagram https://www.instagram.com/leo_thomas81/ Twitter https://twitter.com/leoathomas1981
I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) in 2015 and was introduced to Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (BPD). The evidence based coping skills I was taught via this incredible form of therapy helped me gain stability and focus on my health and wellbeing. I began to use these skills on crew and cast around me when it was clear that they too were struggling with heightened anxiety and stress. And then...
I lost two friends who worked in the industry to suicide in under two years. Production Designer, Alan MacDonald and Unit Nurse, Morag Webster.
The main problem to solve in the industry is the lack of duty of care, especially as there is now guilty knowledge of there being a mental health crisis within the industry, and continue to break the stigma around mental health. To create new, effective, production protocols that aim to look after the mental health of crew and cast.
I have been working with Matt Longely of 6ft From the Spotlight https://www.6ftfrom.org/ since 2018 and we are developing a solution.
I am now a fully certified Mental Health First Aider (MHFA) and have utilised this role on three productions, 'His Dark Materials', 'Trigonometry' and 'Small Axe'. Using the skills I was taught in this training, and combining those evidence based DBT skills, designed to ease stress and anxiety, to regulate emotions and teach mindfulness and radical acceptance, I am developing a new role of Wellbeing Facilitator (WBF). I was just recently certified as an i-Act Manager too, so these practices also come into play.
If this role, and if a duty of care was already in place for crew and cast maybe my two friends would be alive today.
The increased momentum for developing effective mental wellbeing support on productions continues. Prior to lock down this vital role was about to be trialled on a BFI funded feature film in April 2020, unfortunately Covid19 has postponed this, but it shall still go ahead, soon.
How will continued funding help me?
Continuing to advocate and encourage the dialogue within the industry, to meet with and interview those experiencing difficulties and searching for solutions. And to gain more recognised qualifications.
So where has your money gone? What achievements have you helped me gain? What will your donations further contribute to?
As the page was set up in 2017, some of this money has already been put to use on covering those short day courses, and the travel to and from these.
Printing and delivery costs of t-shirts and hoodies worn on set and at all industry meetings, and public events etc to promote the cause.
Business cards developed and printed, along with care cards to use at work.
Your donations have paid towards my time, in attending advocacy meetings in person, researching in conversations, as well as establish online connections.
I was able to be an integral part of the Film and TV Charity forum meetings that helped being about the industry's first wellbeing survey, 'The Looking Glass', and be in attendance of such meetings.
The printing of the one hundred (shoot days) exhibition of Instagram posts, that was on show at The Work Foundation.
To have a travel budget that enables me to attend talks and making appearances in universities and lectures.
Your donation today will help support the growth of this role and assist in short counselling courses I am looking to study, either at Open University or others, part time, or full time. I will gain more skills within the field of psychology and counselling , and afford to purchase more reading material. There is only so much that two or three day courses can teach me and whilst those skills are very valuable, and have been put into practice, alongside my own understanding and knowledge of the DBT, I can only benefit from more training.
Also since collaborating with 6ft From the Spotlight (a Community Interest Company - CIC) any donations will help fund the podcasts we record, and the equipment we need to do them. Donations will help cover the cost of sending out training books, printing a new logo for more t-shirts and hoodies. Donations will also help towards purchasing items, for a toolkit, to use on set, such as essential oils, ice packs, eyes masks and more.
As for this present moment
To give you a better understanding as to how crew utilised the availability of this role, I was approached by at least 15-20 members of crew, and cast, on a recent 5 week shoot. I have experienced first hand the positive effects this role has on crew and cast.
You can find out more about what myself and Matt Longley are doing, via our podcasts. Please listen at https://soundcloud.com/mentalhealthinfilm or type 'mental health in film' into Spotify.
I thank you for your time and energy. I would like to let the written testimonials, below, speak for themselves, as to how successful this new role has been, and will be....it just needs to be accepted and implemented.
I am choosing to share many testimonials, as some people inform me that I am wasting my time, and that this role will never work; and industry will never change. Below is the proof that it did, and will work. :-)
“It’s easy to feel isolated on set, and that the things you go through on a long job, whether they are personal or work related, that you have to suffer alone. A lot of TV & Film jobs don’t advertise anyone to speak to if you are going through a difficult time. As if we are all super-human machines that don’t have feelings. Which is wrong. And that’s where Leo was a lifesaver at a time when I just needed to talk to someone about protection and my safety on set. Seeing Leo on set made me feel safe at times when I felt scared. She always made herself available to talk and was only on the end of the phone if I needed anything. She always offered support, and made things not seem so scary. Leo gave the option of being a liaison between myself and production in case I felt I couldn’t take my problem higher up. I think I would have left that job before the contract ended if Leo hadn’t been around as a Mental Health First Aider. And I personally think it is such a vital role to have on a TV & Film set. Thank you Leo x. – Anonymous
“I worked with Leo on the set of ‘Trigonometry’ over a 6 week shoot where I directed the second block. The cast and crew had already been shooting for 10 weeks and were exhausted both physically and mentally, however Leo was the one who always started off the day smiling and genuinely engaging with everyone on how they were. She was the support system for the whole crew of around 35+ people. Several times she was there for me personally to support me through my feelings of conflict in working such long hours away from my young daughter. I felt we shared personal things which usually are not discussed in the workplace but on a film set you create an alternative family and get very close very quickly. I felt able to talk to Leo about personal matters which effected my state of mind on set and this helped immensely. Leo was also vocal about explaining that she was a mental health advocate, and this opened up the possibility for others to speak to her about matters which they would most certainly would have held in and would have manifested in stress. In highly stressful, demanding and physically exhausting job on a film or tv set I found it really made a difference to have someone as caring, kind and compassionate on our team, and it set the tone for everyone else’s behaviour towards one another”. – Stella Corradi, Director for BBC.
“When I had an anxiety attack on set, I felt alone and had no idea how to deal with it. The medic had some experience but the way he liaised with my HOD led to a very uncomfortable situation coming back to work. The HOD didn’t know how to deal with me leaving set, he ended up saying he was upset with me that I didn’t tell him what I was going through. Which was a big problem because partly the anxiety was derived from how he made me feel at work. The PM did ask, over that weekend, if I was well enough to come back. The only time I was able to feel comfortable talking was when Leo asked how I was feeling. She was approachable. It was really nice to talk to someone that understood what I was going through. It was a shame someone like that wasn’t on hand when these things happen. Someone to help me, someone could’ve spoke to me at the time, explain to my HOD what an anxiety attack meant. To have some real support is invaluable.”- Matt, Boom Operator.
“The first day I saw Leo I noticed her T-shirt, “How are you?” And her very welcoming smile. It’s very simple to talk to Leo and she is always happy to help and give advice. Her presence on set is a great benefit for everyone in every department.” – Ariane, Actor.
“Leo was so helpful to me during the shoot. Just knowing there was a mental health medic on set made me feel incredibly supported – as somebody who has had a variety of mental health issues throughout my life. I think on a film set, where people are sleep deprived and often overworked – having a mental health medic is not just useful, but integral”. – Anonymous, Costume Designer.
“I think it was good to have a member of the crew who was an impartial ear, someone they could talk to if they needed a chat about anything that was on their mind”. – Dave, Unit Nurse.
“It was refreshing to see a production employee as a Mental Health First Aider, especially someone like Leo. It was very good to brush up and re-learn the outlines of mental stress at work from her and was good to know we had someone to talk to; if problems progressed. It’s a silent battle a lot of crew have every day and it’s good it’s being recognised, but in my opinion still needs to be implemented more. Leo was great and undertook the role very well, we need more of this and of a department.” – Dan, Grip.
“When I first saw Leo’s t-shirt (that read “How are you?” and “Mental Health First Aider”) I was intrigued but thought it was a gimmick shirt to be honest. After working closely with her I quickly realised it wasn’t and that this is a very important cause for our industry and the world over. Leo can potentially set a benchmark for others to follow her quest. I found it massively reassuring that she was there on set, and that I could talk to her about anything. An extremely friendly face that I knew I could talk to in confidence gave me the confidence I needed to face my anxieties. This should be as important as a First Aider at work in my view.” – Anonymous, Grip.
“As a former teacher, I am very aware of how important mental health is to young people. I previously studied mindfulness to pass onto my pupils and mental health is still at the forefront of my current role as an Education and Training Officer. I know having good mental health, and a good work life balance is key to the trainees we mentor, who are embarking on a career in the Film and TV industry. Our trainees have probably never experienced such long hours or worked under such pressure before, and so looking after their mental health is just as important as their physical health. I had many conversations with Leo Thomas about the need for having a safe place and someone to talk to, if necessary, in this environment. This is something I think would be extremely beneficial. Having a Mental Health First Aider on set would help provide the extra support that is needed in this industry.” – Sarah O’Keefe, Education and Training Officer, Badwolf.
“Leo was an incredible pillar of support during my time on set during production. She was a soothing presence to have around particularly during times when I felt very vulnerable and exposed. She consistently provided me with encouragement, love, support and held space for me to share my feelings and experience in a way that allowed me to do my job to the fullest.”- Emily, Actor.
“I recently worked with Leo on a five-month TV series called ‘Trigonometry’. Leo’s presence on set was hugely beneficial. Even simple things like checking in – asking how you really are as opposed to the constant banter that makes up a huge part of the conversation on set – and having moments of honest conversations with her about mental health made a massive difference in mine and – I’m sure – many other crew members’ time on the job. A lot of the time there is enormous pressure in the industry to never take a day off (even when really sick), never have an ‘off’ day (even when under huge personal pressure). It might be a result of the freelance nature of the job and the idea that everyone is ‘replaceable’, but to show any cracks under pressure is somehow very taboo, and this in turn impacts hugely on mental wellbeing. I think the idea of having a Mental Health First Aider on set is a fantastic and actually long overdue. In many companies, there are HR departments to whom employees can turn with any personal issues and problems. Having an equivalent of this in the Film and TV industry would be brilliant, and I’m sure would make the whole industry a better place to work”. – Ania, Camera Assistant.
“Entertainment industry is exciting but a very demanding way of life. Unsociable working hours, working away from home, family and friends. Stressful working conditions. Having a Wellbeing Facilitator on set is valued and potentially a life saving asset. Your desire and passion for helping people in this way is much needed in this industry, as at the moment as far as I am aware there is a big gap in providing mental health first aid, and advice for mental health concerns on set. I am so hoping that soon this will change thanks to you. X. – Marina, Stand In.
“What to say about working with Leo?! Firstly, I was delighted someone so lovely cared so much. I naturally gravitated to her and when I found out about her hard work for well-being, I was humbled. Leo truly embodies self-care and care for others. Knowing there was somebody at work to talk to actually made work more bearable and provided a sanity safety net. My hope is that Leo, and all of us, can move forward together in well-being within our wonderfully, creative industry.” – George, Standby Carpenter.
“Working as a freelance crew member has more highs and lows than you can imagine. The hard work, long hours and high pressure can sometimes make people say things they don’t mean (or just make you feel rubbish). I was lucky enough to get a couple of years training at a prestigious film school before I first stepped foot on a film set but, even in those two years, I only had one lecture (about two hours long) on the psychological impact of this line of work. On top of that, heads of department aren’t hired for their personalities and have often had very little training in how to effectively manage others. Therefore, having somebody like Leo on set was a breath of fresh air. She was so easy to talk to and made it crystal clear with everybody on the crew (via the WhatsApp group and her great T-shirts and hoodies) that she listens, in confidence, if you wanted to talk. I found myself telling her about some very personal things I’d never told anybody on set before and, afterwards, was able to focus way better on the tasks at hand. For 99% of the time, you won’t have any issues and will love the job you do, however, when that 1% hits you, having someone like Leo around makes that day so much easier.”- Anonymous, Boom Operator.
“Mindful, open, empathetic, appropriately warm and very supportive. Leo opened my mind to the necessity of sturdy and reliable mental health support in the (often highly physically and mentally demanding) film and television industry, on a stressful production. Regular thought-provoking disclosure in addition to the attentive level of support I personally received, leads me no hesitation in highly recommending Leo Thomas and her fine work. More of the like will no doubt lead to a vastly superior working environment across the board and a huge increase in work satisfaction and productivity x”. – Jake, Standby Props.
“My first experience of having a Mental Health First Aider on set could not have been more useful and needed. It is often something I find is lacking in our creative space and I didn’t realise how necessary, until it was available to me. Leo’s presence was not only a huge force on days in which I actively needed her support. But a gentle constant reminder that mental health is an important aspect of our working creative career that needs attention, and that those around you are all experiencing it in different ways. To know she was there calmed me, supported me and also gave a different place to direct my energy that wasn’t towards those leading the day. It saved time and caused less anxiety about raising certain issues I may have been feeling (related or unrelated to the work). Thank you for all your hard work”. – Thalissa, Actor.
“During the filming of my most recent project, I experienced some of the hardest times both at work and in my personal life. The combination of losing a loved one early on in the filming, and having a parent suffering a very unexpected mental health related illness near the end, while working very long days, being asked to do things at work with little thanks and having to deal with requests last minute almost broke me. I always pride myself on being ‘carefree’ and happy at work, and I generally am. But I found it increasingly hard to keep up my smile, and on more days than not it was a fake one. I felt I was perpetually rolling my eyes or feeling unfounded anxiety that I hadn’t felt since I was a teenager. I love my job, and am incredibly proud, I don’t take for granted that I am extremely lucky to do something I trained in, and still find an interest in. But I do feel that we are being asked so much more of ourselves than we can ultimately handle. The hours, the 6th days, the far away locations, the long drives. I feel unhealthy at work, not because of bad food, or partying (the food’s usually great and the mere idea of partying itself makes me yawn) but mentally unhealthy. Like I needed to take myself away to actually feel worthy again. My absolute light on this job however was meeting Leo, early on we began to carpool, and I would look forward to that hour every day. We would chat about music and general interests, but I slowly started to realise how important Mental Health was to her. I’ve always been the kind of person to have a stiff upper lip about emotion. But for the first time in my life I started to feel like it was okay to not be okay. Poor Leo had to put up with my sudden love of opening up in the car as well as at work but her simple advice, both through meditation, talking to someone and just plain being okay with taking some time for “you” helped me in ways I don’t know that even I am aware of yet. I am still working on crazy jobs, with bonkers hours and requests, but thanks to Leo and the world she has opened my mind up to, I am dealing with it all far differently than before. Mental Health In Film is something that we all need to pay more attention to, it is as dangerous when not addressed as driving on three hours sleep, and drinking 16 cups of coffee just to make it through a day. I hope the changes that Leo and everyone else who have taken this stand can set us all on a path to a much happier film and tv industry, because it is a really brilliant, exciting industry to be a part of”. – Anonymous, Standby Costume.
“I met Leo on ‘Black Mirror’, it was one of these meetings that without knowing each other we immediately connected, on a human level and on a creative one too. We spent the shooting weeks getting to know each other and very quickly realised that Leo’s empathy was greater than I have ever known. She deeply cares about others and she was very outspoken on how people should share their emotions and feelings and communicate their issues with others around them. As the job was finishing, we were talking about the lack of culture in the film industry for people with mental health problems to be able to talk to someone. In the months after that Leo was trained as a Mental Health First Aider and that’s when I realised that she was into something very special. I haven’t heard anyone speak with so much passion about mental health issues in our industry, it’s a taboo subject. Even me, as a HOD, I struggle to talk to my colleagues about any issues I have because I believe they will think less of me maybe. I started talking to Leo about my personal struggles with stress and the lack of balance between work and family life and her advice and words were very welcomed and have helped me understand more why my job affects my personal life. We desperately need more people like Leo, directly at our work place so we can confide about our issues, having someone to talk to goes a long way and will make people more productive and more importantly, make us feel that we are appreciated and not just used as a part of making a film of a drama. I admire Leo for her continuing efforts to bring awareness in the film industry and make people understand the importance of supporting crews that they work long hours and sometimes are away from home and struggle with mental health problems”. – Chris, Gaffer.
“Having Leo on set to be able to talk to was so beneficial to my wellbeing at work, we were working long hours and dealing with everyday life on top of this can get to you. You are constantly pushed to your limits by dealing with these issues and need to release and feel listened to and understood” – Anonymous, Standby Make-up.
“Leo was FANTASTIC with me on set, especially as I was just getting to grips with being diagnosed with epilepsy – so was still having seizures on set – she always checked up on me and asked me how I was! She was so lovely in messaging me when I got home too which I really appreciated: she hugely raised awareness on set regarding mental health and she made how you felt personally seem like a priority rather than prioritising what was happening in your working day. Which actually created a better mood on set which enables people to function better in their jobs anyway! She was also someone it was easy to open up to regarding a difficult home situation I was also having at the time. She is brave in trying to change the culture and I believe she’s doing a very good job of it. She has integrity in how she enforces the cause as well, which is really powerful”. – Naomi, 3rd Assistant Director.
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