Industry gets behind push for mental health first aid training

Ben Steel.

Netflix, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Fox Studios Australia and Ausfilm have partnered to support a new wellbeing social enterprise led by Ben Steel, including training to upskill 60 production and post-production leaders in mental health first aid.

While Steel is expected to reveal further details about his new venture later this week, expressions of interest are already open for the training initiative, pitched at producers, line-producers/production managers, post producers, post supervisors and VFX producers.

To run in June, the training is designed to help people navigate and initiate conversations about mental health, as well as how to recognise common mental health issues, intervene early and direct people to professional help, and respond in a mental health crisis.

Steel, who will lead the course, is an actor and filmmaker behind 2019’s The Show Must Go On, which addressed mental health in the broader entertainment industry. The film went behind Entertainment Assist statistics that reveal for those working in the industry, rates of suicide ideation are double that of the general population, anxiety symptoms 10 times higher and depression symptoms five times higher.

Since making that film, Steel has attempted to start a bigger conversation with the screen sector about this issue, and has been running mental health first aid training since last year.

In a freelance, project-to-project industry, Steel tells IF that often people are working without a corporate infrastructure they can turn to for formal training or indeed support.

With people in roles such as line producer or post-production supervisor typically interfacing with a lot crew, they made a natural sense to upskill.

“To focus on these leaders both in post and production was a no brainer,” he says.

“People are turning to them and they’re in a place to be observing many different people as well.”

Fox Studios Australia head John Hughes is aware that many of the crew that come through the studio’s gates do not benefit from the same sort of corporate support infrastructure the facility’s staff do via Disney.

He tells IF that he hopes the mental first aid training will upskill people to be able to confidently and effectively start a conversation around mental health, free from stigma, and that a mental health first aid officer eventually becomes a standard on set.

“Bigger businesses have systems in place and they roll out training. The freelance world doesn’t [have access to that]. It’s really important, we believe, that people are given the tools that they need to have to succeed in this space,” he says.

The last two years have been difficult for many people across the industry, highlighting the need for initiatives such as this and to break down stigma, Ausfilm CEO Kate Marks tells IF.

“[Ben’s] made such an incredible impact already in enabling conversations about the mental health challenges that our industry faces,” she says.

“It’s about keeping the conversation live and giving people confidence to have the conversation and giving the industry tools... whether it’s for conversations they’re having with colleagues, their teams, or their direct reports.”

In a statement, ILM executive in charge Sydney and Singapore studios, Luke Hetherington, says the company thought it pertinent to provide access to training that will make meaningful impact.

“It was important for us to put our weight behind this initiative and make an overall contribution to help support the growth and improvement of the mental health and wellbeing of our sector. It’s something that we as a company believe in,” he says.

Netflix director APAC studio and production affairs Debra Richards was hopeful to see the training give screen leaders confidence in “knowing what to do, what to say, and how to offer support to a colleague or employee.”

To express interest in attending one of the courses register here.