The Backstage Mental Health Evaluation Survey
The current Backstage Mental Health evaluation is up and running and waiting for people to participate. In 2019 we heard the views of 1302 workers in our first UK backstage mental health evaluation. A lot has happened since then, and we want to take the time to learn more about the effects of the pandemic on our workers wellbeing, and supplement the data we already have about mental health prevalence in our industry. We want to let you know about the work of the AAPTLE wellbeing group and we really want to boost the number of set and designers taking part, so that the data is representative of our whole backstage community.
Take part here! http://www.tinyurl.com/AAPTLE-Mental-Health-Eval
My journey into researching mental health backstage.
I am as passionate about working backstage as I am on the topic of mental health and well-being, so it stands to reason that at some point these two passions would combine. I have spent my career backstage; be that out in a field, hiding in a basement at the Natural History Museum or in a theatre crew room. Wherever I have been, I have been lucky to thoroughly enjoy my job as a lighting technician. Throughout that time, I have of course been dealing with my own mental health diagnosis. Largely I have found the backstage community to be friendly and welcoming, but like society at large talking about mental health wasn’t the “done” thing, and I spent most of the time alone with my thoughts and coping with my mental health condition. This silent culture is one that I am committed to change, so that the students that I teach can venture into a workplace where they can talk about their mental health, and, more than talking, it can be considered in the provision and planning for our backstage staff by the people that produce our shows and live events.
In 2019 I created project Blackout, a 6-minute immersive installation that takes you on a journey using the tricks of my trade, lighting, sound and video. It shows you what it is like to live with my mental health condition of Bi Polar type ii. (Fuse Arts, 1AD). This project was supported and sponsored by many manufacturers and businesses from the industry I love. It was a testament to the collective team power of our sector to show support for an innovative project highlighting mental health awareness. I think it was watching this that inspired me to start my vision and work in researching mental health in our backstage community.
September 2019, we took project Blackout to the Plasa show (Waite, 2019). It was here that we launched our first mental health evaluation survey. The survey was collectively funded by several industry associations. I was beaming with pride that so many industry bodies agreed to support this, showing a great team effort towards wanting to investigate more about this topic in our sector.
1302 people took part in the first UK backstage evaluation for Mental Health. The results were studied and a full report was drawn up by Dr Paul Hanna from the school of Psychology at the University of Surrey. (Hanna, 2020)
We learnt a great deal of things from this evaluation which was summarised in Dr Hanna’s executive summary. Many plans were made to dissect and use this information. We wanted to start to implement actions to tackle positive changes to help with the provision and thought for mental health and well-being in our industry.
Fast forward to 2021, our industry has suffered the most turbulent year and a half. Venues, shows and events have all but stopped. Our efforts have had to focus on basic survival as we seek to stay financially viable. Many of our work force have been out of work, furloughed and many more missing all kinds of government support. During this pandemic I think it would be safe to say that everyone’s mental health has been a challenge (O’Connor et al., 2020), but none more so than the people that work in theatre and live events, as the restrictions continue to have a great impact on our work. We know from our 2019 survey that mental health issue prevalence was high backstage, but I was certain that the pandemic had brought new anxieties and worries to our workforce.
I, like many I am sure, battled through the pandemic as the symptoms of my mental health condition changed and became harder to manage. The many changes of day-to-day life meant many people had to reinvent their daily routines and find new the “normal” to get by, and for people in our industry we had to do this while we watched the huge impacts that Covid-19 was having in our sector. A double whammy of coping with our own personal life, and that of the anxiety and worry about our jobs and industry. It’s been one hell of a year for us all. Having taken the time I needed to get my life and mental health under control, my thoughts wandered to the many people in the industry I love who have experienced a similarly challenging year.
There are many like-minded people in our industry who equally have a passion for mental health and well-being, and I am lucky that many of them introduce themselves to me and share the great work they have done. I took the time to invite them into a virtual room together. It was lovely to meet with like-minded people and begin to talk and formulate plans and ideas of what we wanted to do to tackle this topic in industry. Everyone in the room belonged to their own industry association or group. Our associations and industry bodies have worked so hard for us throughout this year, organising talks and seminars, lobbying government, raising awareness, and even starting well-being focussed reading groups. We have welcomed the formation of many much-needed new groups, such as Stage Sight (Stage Sight, n.d.), and Freelancers Make Theatre Work (FMTW, 2020). The formation of APPTLE (the Alliance of Production Professionals in Theatre and Live events) saw all of the many great groups and associations coming together to communicate and work on common goals and aims. Mental Health and well-being is a topic for everyone and we all felt strongly that it was something that every association and group should join together to try and seek a cultural change backstage. So the informal well-being group I had started became the APPTLE well-being working group. (APPTLE, n.d.)
In May 2021 the follow up backstage mental health evaluation was launched and open for people to participate. It was vital to update our statistics and get a better understanding of the prevalence and issues that our workforce have endured as a result of the pandemic. As a working group we have a very clear aim and goal; to use both sets of survey results to help us devise and create a series of guidance notes offering advice and suggestions on how to better tackle and promote a culture of change towards mental health and well-being backstage.
What does the data tell us?
In 2019 - 59% of 1302 participants identified with currently having or having had in the past a mental health condition.
In 2021 we have refined our question and of the 969 participants who have currently taken part 40% currently have a mental health condition. This is substantially greater than the current UK statistic. “one in four adults and one in 10 children experience mental illness, and many more of us know and care for people who do” (NHS, 2019).
In 2019 54% of participants said they had their mental health condition before coming into their backstage careers. Which is in line with our 2021 enquiry – Have you experienced this mental health condition for the first time during the pandemic? Only 14% said yes. So 86% already had a current mental health condition before Covid-19 struck.
It is clear from both sets of statistical data that the prevalence of mental health issues in our working sector is much higher than the UK average and this alone should drive us to work to implement a better more planned and structured approach to provision, and a change of culture towards talking and being heard on this topic.
In 2019 of the 1302 participants 347 identified as being female 26.7%. Of those females 71% identified with having had or currently having a mental health condition.
In 2021 of the 969 current participants of the survey a huge 432 identify with being female 47%. This significant turn out from our females is a dramatic doubling in numbers from our 2019 survey to our 2021 questionnaire, and with so many of the backstage sectors being largely male dominated I think even at this early stage its clear our females have something to say on matters of mental health.
In the current 2021 survey 72% of the participants identify with being freelance, be that full time freelance or PAYE and some freelance work. We know that a freelancer doesn’t have the same security of an employer for provision for mental health support.
52% of the 969 survey participants have said they have left or are thinking of leaving the backstage industry. So, half the sample size are still very nervous about returning to work and having job security.
It is vital that we start to highlight and campaign for our businesses and companies to acknowledge that the provision and support for mental health and well-being in the work place is essential, not least because of the effects of this pandemic period. We have to acknowledge the value of our working staff and show the 50% that are thinking of leaving that their welfare and well-being are important and we don’t want to lose their much-needed skill sets. We also need our employers to acknowledge the large percentage of freelance staff that they hire to produce shows and live events and make sure they are considered in staff well-being planning.
We know and it’s been widely reported that 1.28 billion was made in ticket revenue by UK theatres in 2018 (SOLTUK, 2018). Theatre and Live events are designed, produced and made by people, so it’s time that the industry start to invest some of this back into the people that help to make the profits. It’s also time that the government acknowledge the huge impact this pandemic has had in the theatre and live events industry and prioritise mental health and well-being for our work force as we start to re-open and build and repair.
The 2021 Backstage mental health survey is currently open until the 5th July and we encourage you to take part and increase our sample size. (APPTLE wellbeing group, 2019). The more people we have participating the greater the impact we can have to begin to campaign and promote a cultural change to mental health and well-being backstage.
I am passionate about promoting awareness on mental health, but I am also passionate about the backstage industry that I have loved working in for 20 years. I very much look forward to analysing the survey data, comparing it to the 2019 survey statistics, and more importantly working with the wellbeing working group to use this information to produce guidance and campaign for more priority to be made on the mental health and well-being of our backstage workers.
APPTLE (n.d.). Alliance of Associations & Professionals in Theatre & Live Events. [online] aaptle.uk. Available at: https://aaptle.uk/.
APPTLE wellbeing group (2019). Industry mental health evaluation. [online] Qualtrics.com. Available at: http://www.tinyurl.com/AAPTLE-Mental-Health-Eval
FMTW (2020). Home. [online] Freelancers make theatre work. Available at: https://freelancersmaketheatrework.com/ [Accessed 28 Jun. 2021]
Fuse Arts, F.A. (1AD). Fuse Arts. [online] www.fusearts.org. Available at: https://www.fusearts.org/blackout-immersive/
Hanna, P. (2020). UK Technical Backstage Entertainment Industry Mental Health Evaluation. [online] . Available at: https://gsauk.org/sites/default/files/2020%20Images/UK%20Backstage%20Entertainment%20Industry%20Report%20%286%29.pdf [Accessed 28 Jun. 2021].
NHS, N. (2019). NHS England» Mental health. [online] England.nhs.uk. Available at: https://www.england.nhs.uk/mental-health/.
O’Connor, R.C., Wetherall, K., Cleare, S., McClelland, H., Melson, A.J., Niedzwiedz, C.L., O’Carroll, R.E., O’Connor, D.B., Platt, S., Scowcroft, E., Watson, B., Zortea, T., Ferguson, E. and Robb, K.A. (2020). Mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic: longitudinal analyses of adults in the UK COVID-19 Mental Health & Wellbeing study. The British Journal of Psychiatry, [online] pp.1–17. Available at: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/mental-health-and-wellbeing-during-the-covid19-pandemic-longitudinal-analyses-of-adults-in-the-uk-covid19-mental-health-wellbeing-study/F7321CBF45C749C788256CFE6964B00C.
SOLTUK (2018). SOLT and UK Theatre continue to work with government to find solutions for the theatre industry - SOLT. [online] Solt.co.uk. Available at: https://solt.co.uk/about-london-theatre/press-office/solt-and-uk-theatre-continue-to-work-with-government-to-find-solutions-for-the-theatre-industry/.
Stage Sight (n.d.). Stage Sight – For better representation in off stage theatre roles. [online] Stage Sight. Available at: https://www.stagesight.org/ [Accessed 28 Jun. 2021].
Waite, J. (2019). Blackout to Undertake Pioneering Mental Health Research at PLASA 2019. [online] TPi. Available at: https://www.tpimagazine.com/blackout-to-undertake-pioneering-mental-health-research-at-plasa-2019/ [Accessed 28 Jun. 2021].