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Working in the motion picture industry often requires to be productive in a fast-paced, stressful, high-pressure setting. For managers, supervisors and stewards, it can be difficult to see the signs if a crew member is struggling with mental health or substance abuse. This is because the crew being tired, irritable or frazzled is, well, pretty normal. In this module, we will go discuss the observable changes supervisors want to look out for in crew members who are experiencing either a mental health issue and/or a substance use issue, that will help them decide whether or not a conversation and support is necessary. We say ‘and/or’ because it is common for these two issues to be interconnected (or in psychological terms, concurrent).


We use the PACE model to illustrate the observable changes in behaviour and performance that managers or supervisors should look for if they suspect a member of their crew is experiencing a substance abuse (SA) or mental health (MH) issue. PACE stands for Physical Changes, Actions, Cognitions and Emotions. Let’s look at that more closely:


hysical Changes

An observable physical change may be a deterioration in personal appearance and personal hygiene. The person may be coming on to set with excess body odor, messy hair, or unwashed clothing. Physical changes that are symptomatic of a SA/MH issue are excess shaking, sweating, or trembling. The crew member may be calling in sick often or complaining of physical ailments that are not linked to a physical health concern. The crew member also may be gaining or losing weight rapidly.


Other physical changes to look for include: 

  • tremors

  • running nose

  • hacking couch

  • cold, sweaty palms

  • nausea or vomiting

  • puffy face, blushing or paleness



The actions category may be the first thing supervisors or other crew members start to notice, because it will affect the work the person is doing, and in turn affect the output of the department.  Observable actions may include arriving late or leaving set early, not showing up, making more mistakes than usual, missing deadlines, being irritable or angry at colleagues, disappearing from the set, or spending more time alone.

More observable actions include:

  • alternating periods of high and low productivity

  • major changes in eating habits

  • having outbursts

  • avoiding talking or being around crew members

  • excessive need for privacy (multiple bathroom breaks)

  • car accidents

  • changes in a social group



Cognitions are often the most confusing category because a mental cognition can only be observed through signs that the employee is experiencing new or unusual patterns of thinking.

For example, you may believe the employee is having difficulty concentrating, because their eyes are frequently wandering, they are picking up their phone often, or they stare blankly at the set for long periods of time. You may believe that a crew member is experiencing delusional thinking if they mention strange things out loud that are indicative of paranoia.

More examples of cognitions include:

  • difficulty remembering directions or details

  • difficulty dealing with complex jobs

  • hearing or seeing things that are not there

  • expressing interest in harming oneself

  • a growing inability to cope with stress on set

  • not admitting to obvious problems



Lastly, you may look for observable changes that indicate the crew member is struggling with their emotions. Some changes may be more obvious than others – for example, if a person is frequently crying on set. A less obvious change could be that a crew member is feeling decreased self-esteem. For less obvious changes you must look for more subtle differences, like the person expressing self-doubt when given tasks, asking more questions about their job, not speaking up as frequently, or saying things like “I don’t feel like I’m smart enough to do that.”

Some examples of observable emotional changes include:

  • increased emotional sensitivity (i.e. getting upset or defensive when given constructive criticism)

  • having periods of high and low morale

  • being irritable or angry

  • less patience for people or jobs

  • change in overall attitude/personality with no identifiable cause

  • silliness or giddiness

  • temper tantrums or resentful behavior.


Begin by sharing your observations in a non-judgmental manner. For example, “I’ve noticed lately that you’ve been arriving to set late and not following through with jobs.” Stay aware of the difference between observation and judgement.  It can be hard to observe a situation without judging it, especially if a crew member’s issue is affecting you and other members of the crew. Observation is a neutral act of taking in information, whereas judgement is receiving information and making an inference. Observation is simply noticing ‘what is’, and judgement compares ‘what is’ to ‘what should be’. Stating an observation leaves the recipient feeling noticed and acknowledged, but receiving a judgement may make them feel defensive or inferior.

Our brains are meaning-making organs so we are wired to make a ‘meaning’ out of what we see.

An example of observation would be: “The props you brought to set today were different than what we needed and asked you to bring.”

A judgement would be: “What were you thinking when you brought those props on set? Didn’t you read the script?”

For the crew member to feel safe, you should give them an option to have the conversation after you’ve shared your observations. The person shouldn’t feel like they are being forced to share something they feel uncomfortable with. You may want to use a question like “Do you feel comfortable sharing with me what’s been going on?” or “Do you want to talk so that I can be a support?” Make sure they know they have a choice. You can express concern or your feelings if they come from a genuine place - for example, “I care about you and your well-being…” or “I’m worried about you…”.

Next, assemble all the information you need to get a clear picture of your crew member’s issue. Try to get the facts and background of the problem to have a more rounded understanding. If they’re experiencing multiple issues, try to encourage and direct the crew members to focus on the most pressing problem at hand, and talk about the problems one at a time. Otherwise, it may get overwhelming for either you or the crew member. To explore as effectively as possible, ask open-ended questions, listen actively and respond empathetically. Show tangible attention and interest, which you can do with non-verbal (eye contact) or verbal (saying ‘okay’ or ‘uh huh’) clues. Active listening requires attention and concentration, so you must be in a mindset where you can be fully attentive to the employee. Avoid premature judgement, and instead, just try to understand.

Some useful statements: 

  • “Go on” or “I’m listening” – let your crew member know that you are hearing what they are saying  

  • “Tell me more” – open-ended statements encourage the crew member to share more information

  • “You’re feeling really run down” – summarizations of what your crew member is feeling shows empathy and concern


Try not to say:

  • “That makes me angry” – don’t make it about your own feelings

  • “Why don’t you do ____?” – try not to give advice

  • “You shouldn’t feel that way” – don’t discount their experience

  • “I feel so bad for you” – try not to express pity or sympathy

After you explore the issue, you can determine what the needs or expectations of your crew member are, what solutions or supports are the most suitable, and if you can or cannot help the crew member with their issue.

In order to determine your limits, consider the following criteria:

  • Remember that you can’t offer professional help to a person with a MH or SA issue and you should not diagnose

  • Remember to maintain your boundaries and don’t make promises you can’t keep or don’t feel comfortable with

  • Be clear about the relevant policies and procedures of your union as well as your role as a supervisor/steward/manager


It is not easy to lead conversations on MH and SA issues, especially in a fast-paced environment. The goal of these conversations is to identify the most suitable ways of support and discuss the options with your crew member. You may offer to look through resources together for the right organization that may be able to help them or suggest them to talk to HR or the relevant contact person of their Union about requests that are beyond your ability.

In the next modules, we will provide you with further tips on how to lead a conversation on sensitive topics and how to make referrals.

If you would like to gain a deeper understanding of MH and SA issues, explore our Resources page at

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