Entertainment & Arts

'If all freelancers walked out, the TV industry would stop'

Adeel Amini Image copyright Adeel Amini
Image caption Adeel Amini "almost didn't come back" to TV after his breakdown

Three years ago, freelance television producer Adeel Amini suffered a mental breakdown, forcing him to temporarily leave the job he loves.

The 34-year-old, who works on high-profile comedy and entertainment shows, was diagnosed with having borderline personality disorder.

He believes the condition, which can leave him feeling anxious, depressed and lonely, was "exacerbated" by a lack of care in the cut-throat and often uncertain world of TV.

"It's definitely not a fun industry to be in if you have a lot of those issues," he tells the BBC. "The fleeting, sporadic nature of the work, and the constant questioning of your self-esteem because the phone isn't ringing.

"Even if you think you're still on top of your game, a few months of that can completely knock you sideways."

'Why should I stop doing what I love?'

Amini, from Bradford, says he "almost didn't come back" to TV after the breakdown, but ultimately decided he would not allow himself to be driven out of the career he'd spent the best part of a decade building up.

"I just thought no, why should I? Why should I stop doing what I love?"

He's now urging broadcasters to make more effort to consider the pressures they are putting on people, and to make the industry a more welcoming place.

"I don't think I'd be exaggerating if I said if all the freelancers in the industry stood up and walked out, the industry would 100% stop running," states Amini.

"I'm from a Muslim family, and there are different minorities like LGBT, and people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. I wouldn't want any of those people to think that the industry is not open for them or that it's too difficult, because it is a wonderful place to be."

'Need for real change'

His comments come as the Film + TV Charity announces a £3m mental health taskforce, known as The Whole Picture Programme - backed by broadcasters including ITV, Sky and Channel 4 - which will launch in April.

In a survey carried out by the charity, 87% of the 9,000 film and TV workers who responded said they had experienced a mental health problem.

Charity chief executive Alex Pumfrey said the "the suicide of a well-loved colleague from the film community in 2017 was the catalyst" for them setting up an initial support line.

She believes the industry "can no longer shy away from the need for real change".

"I'm pleased to be working with the members of the new Film and TV Taskforce on Mental Health to spearhead a movement for change," she said. "Devastating though the findings from our research are, we firmly believe there is cause for optimism."

Image copyright Alamy

After 11 years in the industry, Amini welcomes the proposed changes but admits he's "not surprised" by the findings of the survey.

"I've been one of the lucky ones in that I experienced a breakdown and I was able to talk about my issues, but when I did I realised that a lot of people don't do the same thing," he says.

"The problem is that so many of us are freelance that none of us feel like we can talk about it openly. There's always this pressure to maintain a pristine exterior and not be seen as a liability if you want to continue working and get your next job.

"There's no support for us either," he adds. "So even if I did acknowledge what I was going through, there's no-one for us. It's not like a regular job where you might have workplace care or counselling available."

'Acting in isolation'

As a result he has started putting on wellness mornings for fellow freelancers. "The response was so ridiculously high," he says. "I realised that there is a clear need for something in this industry."

The sessions were also prompted by the debate about the standard, or lack of, after-care for TV guests on shows such as Love Island and The Jeremy Kyle Show.

He thinks that if after-care is available for people in front of the camera, "as it should be", then "there should also be something available for the people on this side".

He explains: "There's a lot of intensity that goes on for the shows that we do, we get roped in and we work extremely long hours for no extra-pay.

"There's a lot of stuff that we have to deal with, and we're not trained mental health professionals."

Image copyright Adeel Amini
Image caption Amini has been a freelance TV producer for 11 years

Channel 4 said it was supporting the taskforce "to provide better mental health care and support for our people".

"An industry's culture cannot be changed by one organisation acting in isolation, so by working together, we are sending a clear message to employees, freelancers and the next generation that their mental health and wellbeing are our priority," chief operating officer Jonathan Allan said.

ITV is also on board, and ITV Studios managing director Julian Bellamy said: "We support this initiative which brings the industry together to reiterate and say to our teams, we are there to support you."

'A compelling case for investment'

Other participants include production company Endemol Shine, who make Peaky Blinders and Pointless, and Sky.

Sky managing director of content Zai Bennett said the plan would "allow us to enhance the support available to our own employees and extend valuable services into the freelance community and across the industry".

The BBC hasn't signed up yet but said it supports the charity's efforts "to raise awareness of this important issue".

A BBC statement said the corporation had used a "wide range" of internal campaigns, training and other initiatives to "ensure that the corporation is an inclusive, welcoming and open environment for all staff".

Amini hopes they are all true to their word over the coming months and years in order to prevent the producers of the future going through what he's been through.

"At the end of the day we're all still in it [TV] for a reason, and that's because we absolutely love what we do," he says.


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