How much of an impact is reality TV having on our minds?

By Grace Farrar

The British summer seems to mean one thing to many – sadly not always sunshine but the return of ITV’s addictive Love Island, a reality show where singletons from across the UK enter a glamorous villa on the picturesque Balearic Island of Majorca, hoping to find love. After a failed celebrity attempt in 2005, the shows reboot aired in 2015 and has ran each summer since. The idea of being in a sun-drenched villa, surrounded by attractive individuals and the chance to win £50,000 may have people questioning what there isn’t to like about the show. It seems like most peoples’ ideal summer experience, right?

However, there is a clear dark side to such reality TV shows, outlining the increasing negative impact it can have on contestants’ mental health. 3 individuals associated with Love Island have taken their own lives, with such tragic outcomes resulting in members of the public, alongside health officials, demanding broadcasting corporations do more to protect the mental health of those who are suddenly engulfed in the fame flame.

In response to the undeniable detriment such programmes – and their aftermath – can have on contestants’mental health, ITV confirmed their duty of care protocols for Love Island ahead of the 2021 return. This included comprehensive psychological support, a proactive aftercare package extending support to islanders following their participation, training on the impacts of social media, along with financial and management advice once they have left the villa. Although this is considered a step in the right direction, it is rather alarming it has taken this long for such a protocol to be created, especially with the continued popularity of Love Island.

There have been numerous discussions claiming such TV shows should be banned due to the harm that is inflicted on some contestants who felt...

after leaving the hit show they were not given enough psychological support to deal with life in the public eye.

Contestants from the 2017 season commented they had much less support than latter seasons, which does show improvement in the treatment of participants. However, it is not to say each contestant may experience negative mental health as a result of appearing on the show – but it is important to highlight the intense way they are viewed as ‘public property’ as soon as they set foot in the villa, and for some this has an undeniable negative impact.

In addition to the individuals that partake themselves, Love Island has been criticised for the impact it has on the mental health of some of its audience. A survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation found that 24% of 18-24 year olds told YouGov suggested reality TV such as Love Island makes them worry about their body image. Furthermore, over a third of UK adults have felt anxious or depressed because of concerns about their body due to the ongoing emphasis on the idea there is a ‘perfect body image’ that arguably such TV shows actively promote.

It is increasingly important – for both audiences and the participants themselves – to ensure they take all the right steps to look after their own mental health, and if they feel that shows like Love Island are having a negative impact on their mental health, distance themselves. Many contestants from older seasons of the show have commented on how grateful they have been for the opportunity they have been given since appearing on the show. But stars of the show have gone on to promote the importance of being open about their mental health struggles and encouraging their followers to do the same. Let’s all work together – the more we talk about mental health and the way it can impact us all, the more we can unmask the stigma.

Grace Farrar

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