Mental Health: A Timely Reminder For The Television Industry

The Mental Health Foundation states that the leading cause of death in the UK, for young people aged 20 to 34, is suicide. Statistics shows that men are 3 times more likely to commit suicide compared to women and the recent death of Love Island contestant, Mike Thalassitis, has highlighted the need for television productions to ensure that full support and aftercare is given to cast and crew members for their mental health and well-being. The contestants go from living ordinary lives to becoming overnight reality TV stars. The pressure of stardom can create a negative impact which needs to be supported with the correct training and aftercare.

Former Love Island contestant and semi-professional footballer, Mike Thalassitis was found dead in a park in Edmonton, North London on Saturday 16th March. As the news broke, many payed tributes to the former reality star online but some Love Island contestants spoke out about the lack of support from the producers once they left the programme.

Mr Dom Lever, a contestant on the 2017 show, stated that popular and important contestant’s well-being was prioritised over the other contestants once the programme ended. “You get a psychological evaluation before and after you go on the show but hands down once you are done on the show you don’t get any support unless you’re number one.”

ITV recently stated that Mike’s death has sparked calls for further support and aftercare for individuals who star in reality programmes. ITV said that they will ‘proactively’ check up on the contestants after they have left the show rather than waiting for them to get into contact. Love Island will offer therapy, social media training and financial advice to the contestants once they leave the villa.

ITV's Statement: ..."We have had requests for help from former Islanders, and have provided this. We have always recognised that this should be an evolving process and six months ago we engaged Dr Paul Litchfield, an experienced physician and a Chief Medical Officer, to independently review our medical processes on Love Island. He has extensive experience of working with large companies and Government in the area of mental health. This review has led us to extend our support processes to offer therapy to all Islanders and not only those that reach out to us. And we will be delivering bespoke training to all future Islanders to include social media and financial management. The key focus will be for us to no longer be reliant on the islanders asking us for support but for us to proactively check in with them on a regular basis."

Since the early 1990’s reality TV has seen a significant growth in popularity. Alongside that growth there has been an increase in the number of participants experiencing mental distress and despair. To understand why that might occur it is important to understand how mental health is affected, what fosters or impedes psychological resilience and how these factors are impacted by reality show contributors. 

The World Health Organisation defines Mental Health as ‘ …a state of well-being in which every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to their community.’

When a person is not realising their potential, coping with their daily stress and unable to work productively or contribute, then their mental well-being is deteriorating. This means they become more psychologically vulnerably and less psychologically resilient – thus they are less able to cope when additional stressors come along. 

For reality TV stars, their day-today life changes rapidly once they are on television. Therefore, it can be expected that for many their previous coping strategies for maintaining their mental well-being may be insufficient or even wholly inadequate as the situations and events they are exposed to deviate from anything they may have previously experienced. In addition to adapting to the additional stress of life in the public eye, Reality TV contributors often find their previous established coping strategies deteriorate, it can be that close relationships with family and friends suffer and they lose their sense of belonging and connection with trusted individuals, financial strain increases, reputation can be damaged, lifestyle choices begin to become unhealthy, and control over their own privacy can feel impeded or lost entirely.

In short, the impact of being a reality TV contributor is likely to challenge any individual’s mental well-being. Whilst it is important to note that there can be many positive effects of being a contributor that can increase mental well-being, such as increased sense of self and life purpose or increased financial security, these would decrease risk of psychological harm to the individual. Ultimately the ‘side-effects’ of being a reality TV contributor should be expected to be challenging to their mental health in various ways over the both the short and long term. Tackling the impact on contributor’s mental well-being can be done by following best practice principles for psychological first aid. This means ensuring crews and contributors have the right psycho-education to help themselves stay well and spot signs of deteriorating mental-health in those around them as well as ensuring access to appropriate support is available and clearly signposted. 

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1st Option Safety can deliver accredited and non-accredited mental health first aid training for levels 1,2 and 3 and specialist psychologist support for your production. If you wish to train your team or need assistance on your production, contact us today: 0845 500 8484

Blair, J. L. (2010). Surviving Reality TV: The Ultimate Challenge for Reality Show Contestants. Loy. LA Ent. L. Rev., 31, 1.

Hagerty, B. M., Lynch-Sauer, J., Patusky, K. L., Bouwsema, M., & Collier, P. (1992). Sense of belonging: A vital mental health concept. Archives of psychiatric nursing, 6(3), 172-177.

Hsiou, M. (2013). Harsh Reality: When Producers and Networks Should Be Liable for Negligence and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. Seton Hall J. Sports & Ent. L., 23, 187.

Blog Post Authors: Vandana Thanki and Charlotte Copeland