How to Manage Your Mental Health as a Filmmaker During Coronavirus

Producer and psychotherapist Rebecca Day offers expert advice

23 March 2020

As the UK begins to shut down on itself, we’re experiencing a huge sense of loss. This is undoubtedly a devastating time for filmmakers, particularly those of us who are freelance, as we face an extremely uncertain few months. The toll is both emotional and practical as festivals close their doors, cinemas and theatres are having to cancel screenings and production work grinds to a halt. It’s creating huge challenges for our physical and mental health, particularly in an industry that we know is already experiencing high levels of anxiety, burnout, job insecurity and isolation.

Yet, global uncertainty like this can also be a very powerful tool for bringing people together, for the birth of new ideas and, most intriguing of all, for new ways of telling stories in our efforts to make sense of it all.

There is an incredible surge of supportive conversations, and the creation of an online community within our own sector, in ways that we haven't witnessed before. I can sense already the buzz being created about how we can cover this from a narrative perspective, how we can share the stories in online exhibition spaces and how we can continue to connect as a community and with our audiences, whose need has never been greater.

Among all of that, however, it feels very important to acknowledge the fear that many of us will be experiencing. For most freelancers, uncertainty is an emotion that we’re used to feeling, yet never at this heightened extreme. The powerlessness that comes with that can be paralysing, and it is not something that the body can sustain long-term. From a practical level as filmmakers, being in a fear state completely stifles our creative brain, so acknowledging our emotional turmoil and working together to bring it down to a manageable level, so that we can continue to make meaningful work, is paramount. 

I urge you all to take a minute to sit back, breathe deeply and take stock of what your needs are at this most challenging time. It’s almost impossible to provide a ‘one size fits all’ guide to staying emotionally safe as we adapt to all the uncertainty, because we are all individuals and will be responding to this in our own way. Some of you may plunge into vital storytelling as a way of supporting your community, albeit unpaid; many of us are seeing work evaporating and are afraid of what lies ahead. We have childcare or carer responsibilities to juggle as well as bills to pay. Whatever your situation, we will all need to practise self-care so that we can stay strong, resilient and able to take care of others.

Now more than ever is the time to be kind to yourself and to take care of both the body and the mind. It may feel indulgent or impossible to think of this now, but it is perhaps the one thing we can control while the other elements are being figured out. So, ask yourself what that means to you? How much time can you realistically spend on it and how could it fit into all the other demands in your life?

Eat well, keep the body moving and stay connected. Cognitive experiences such as puzzles, listening to podcasts, board games, sudoku and talking to people are known to be more positively distracting from the negative thought cycles we can find ourselves in. They can enable us to avoid coping in other, more destructive ways. It’s vital to find balance and to not overstretch ourselves. When talking with filmmakers about mental health in general one of the things I hear most often is the sense of responsibility they feel to tell the urgent stories of our time. This frequently comes at a deep personal cost to our emotional and physical safety. Global uncertainty like this calls for artists to respond, on the frontline while it’s happening and, in the months to follow, as we dissect it. But we must do this is in a safe way, without leaving ourselves vulnerable to exhaustion and further poverty.

If you haven’t been able to before, please start finding a way to release the emotional pressure. Reach out to someone who can support you. It’s ok to be vulnerable. Just before the coronavirus hit our shores, the findings from the Looking Glass Survey were released, revealing the severe pressures that we are already under as an industry when it comes to our mental health. Many of you voiced a feeling that you were alone in this. One thing we do know about this pandemic is that we are in it collectively, and we are rapidly learning to communicate compassionately and openly in vital ways. Utilise that.

Through Film In Mind, we provide an online counselling service for filmmakers and can be contacted through the website or on facebook if you need support. As a creative community, we’re still working out how best to respond to this crisis in a realistic way and will update as often as possible with support options so please stay connected where you can. Tv Mindset have already scheduled a Wellness Morning Webinar on Wednesday 25th March and created a mentorship scheme and Screenskills have soft-launched an emergency package of online support and training for freelancers.

The film & TV Charity have a 24hr helpline that responds to all manner of concerns and can also connect you with dedicated counsellors. MIND, the Samaritans, independent therapists and other mental health charities will continue to do what they can to provide support so please know that it is there. There is some advice about where to go if you are worried about how to survive this financially as well. This will continue to evolve as the government responds to the situation. It feels so unclear and terrifying now, but we will work our hardest to find solutions and forge a path forward into a new landscape. 

The optimist in me hopes that these periods of self-isolation and social distancing can provide us with the much-needed space to reflect, re-evaluate and process. It certainly shouldn’t be a time for disconnect but a time for us to re-imagine, plan and put into effect a new type of industry that can better support our freelancers so that they can continue to function safely and compassionately, even in times of crisis.