Screen Well aims to shift the dial on mental health

Ben Steel and Margaret Tillson.

Together with business partner Margaret Tillson, Ben Steel today officially launched Screen Well, a website and social enterprise dedicated to improving mental health outcomes for the screen industry.

The venture aims to address ongoing mental health challenges facing screen businesses and practitioners via sector-specific resources, training and initiatives.

In particular, its focus is on early intervention and prevention, and promoting mentally healthy workplaces, delivered with an understanding that the majority of the industry works freelance and gig-to-gig.

Screen Well is the culmination of years of advocacy from actor and filmmaker Steel, who directed 2019 ABC documentary The Show Must Go On, which examined mental health in the broader entertainment industry.

In particular, the film went behind 2016 Entertainment Assist/Victoria University research that showed that for those working in entertainment, rates of suicide ideation are double that of the general population, anxiety symptoms 10 times higher and depression symptoms five times higher.

As part of that film’s impact campaign, Steel toured the country with a Wellness Roadshow to start a bigger conversation with the creative industries about mental health and wellbeing.

However, the process revealed to him that the screen industry lagged behind other sectors in terms of support and infrastructure. The music industry, for instance, has initiatives like Support Act (though its services would later expand to cover the screen industry during COVID-19), and live performance sector has the Arts Wellbeing Collective.

As a result, Steel set about to run a series of webinars about wellbeing aimed at screen practitioners, and became accredited to train mental health first aid, which teaches participants how to provide initial support to a person who may be experiencing a mental health problem or crisis.

Screen Well takes his work a level further. As part of its initial offering, the organisation is working with Griffith Film School to get screen industry-specific data around mental health and wellbeing, and as IF has reported, has partnered with Ausfilm, Fox Studios Australia, Netflix and Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) to upskill 60 production and post-production leaders in mental health first aid for free.

Further, its website showcases dedicated resources and best practice industry guides.

“We’ve been falling behind in the wellbeing space in the screen industry,” Steel tells IF.

“Screen Well is an attempt to get us back on track, so we can come up to speed with other parts of the creative industries.”

Next week, Steel and Tillson will be on the ground at Screen Forever on the Gold Coast, where they will host a series of roundtable discussions exploring the wellbeing challenges faced by screen industry leaders and practitioners, and offer their vision of what mentally healthy screen workplaces would look like.

“We want screen companies and businesses that care about improving wellbeing to reach out to us, meet with us and consider using our services, because we’re from the industry – we’ve been on the front line for years, and collectively we’ve been working in the mental health space for over six years,” Tillson says.

Trade-generated income will be reinvested by Screen Well back into further screen industry-specific resources and initiatives. The venture is support by an advisory board that includes Monica Davidson and Lisa Colley.