Support Act.

Hoodlum Entertainment’s Nathan Mayfield was devastated when the pandemic forced a halt to filming the third season of the ABC’s Harrow and the second of Network 10’s Five Bedrooms.

Mayfield worried about the mental health and well-being of more than 400 crew and cast who were directly affected by the shutdowns, and their families.

So he was delighted when the Federal Government announced last week a $10 million funding package for music industry charity Support Act.

A good portion of the funds will be used to open up the Support Act Wellbeing Helpline to all members of the arts and screen industries.

Launched in June 2018, the helpline is a free, confidential phone counselling service dedicated to help those who are concerned about any aspect of their mental health and well-being.

“Knowing there is wider access to tools and communication that ensures we are doing everything we can to support each other is going to be vital,” Mayfield tells IF.

“We need to be ready to hit the ground running when we can resume filming and that means supporting our amazing creative crews and cast now.”

Jungle Entertainment CEO Jason Burrows welcomed the initiative, telling IF: “There’s a lot of support among producers at the moment to improve the mental health of our production community.”

Burrows put that support to practical use during filming of Wakefield, the ABC drama set in a Blue Mountains psychiatric hospital, created by Kristen Dunphy, which was another casualty of the shutdown.

“We had briefings from mental health experts and people with lived experience, which were really moving and powerful,” he says. “We also provided contacts for mental health support services on all scripts and call sheets with our set nurse being a key touchpoint. Our creators also ran choir sessions during the shoot, which sounds potentially very awkward….but everyone loved it.”

Director Ben Steel and producer Sue Maslin, the creative team behind the ABC’s feature doc The Show Must Go On, which delved into why so many arts and entertainment workers are struggling with anxiety, depression and substance abuse, had been lobbying the government to broaden Support Act’s reach to the screen sector and visual arts.

“Expanding the helpline to cast and crew, TV and radio is phenomenal,” says Steel, who is working with Maslin on the the national Wellness Roadshow, a series of forums, workshops and case studies enabling arts and entertainment practitioners to discuss mental well-being.

Ben Steel.

The roadshow kicked off last October with screenings of the film in cinemas around the country attended by a psychologist and a rep from Entertainment Assist, helped by a $20,000 grant from Screen Australia.

But the roadshow had to shift online after the national lockdown, starting at the end of this month with events for Western Australia and Ballarat/Castlemaine.

Maslin expects there will be rising demand for Support Act’s helpline following the Federal Government’s decision to deny access to the $1,500 a fortnight JobKeeper wage subsidy to casual workers, which she calls “a kick in the guts” for a large proportion of the screen industry.

“If you talk to any producer who had to let go of cast and crew and who knows the financial and mental health consequences for every single one of those retrenchments, you know the scale of the crisis,” she says. “There is general stress and anxiety which can build to depression and worse as time progresses.”

Support Act CEO Clive Miller tells IF it will take about two weeks to expand the helpline to the screen sector, which would entail training more counselors. The charity trains counselors and the helpline is provided by not-for-profit Access EAP.

Originally a service for the music industry, the helpline was recently extended to performing arts workers in partnership with Arts Wellbeing Collective.

Help is also given via emails and soon, text. Each caller is entitled to six, one-hour sessions, which, based on need, can be extended to a further six sessions.

For more information on the Wellness Roadshow go here.

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