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Love Island and mental health: where is the responsibility?

ByBryony Smith

Mar 30, 2019

Content warning: mention of mental health and suicide. 

Former Love Island contestant Mike Thalassitis was reported to have died in a North London park on 15 March 2019. Thalassistis is the second contestant to have allegedly died by suicide, alongside Sophie Gradon who purportedly took her life last June. The devasting deaths of these two young people have led to debates over where the responsibility lies.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Minister for Mental Health Jack Doyle-Price have both since called for a duty of care for the contestants. As reported by The Guardian, Hancock said: “I am very worried about the support for the mental health of contestants on reality TV shows. The sudden exposure to massive fame, I suppose, can have significant impacts on people and I think that it is a duty on any organisation that is putting people in the position of making them famous overnight, that they should also look after them afterward. There needs to be a compulsory aftercare scheme in place for people who are now suffering just so they could make a good TV show.”

This was further supported by several former Love Island contestants, such as Jonny Mitchell who has recently set up a petition on Change.org to establish a new duty of care for show contestants.

In response to these calls of action, ITV subsequently released a statement saying: “Care for our islanders is a process the show takes very seriously and is a continuous process for all those taking part in the show … the programme will always offer ongoing support when needed and when appropriate.”

This statement was supported by TV producers interviewed by The Guardian who stated that the hit TV show has a reputation for having an unusually rigorous screening process, but that no amount of preparation will brace twenty-somethings for the mental strains of overnight fame.

The responsibility cannot then lie solely with ITV. Tabloid journalists also face some responsibility in terms of attacking these celebrity newcomers with incessant headlines and stories, perhaps exemplified in their disrespectful articles reporting Mr. Thalassitis’ death. The Telegraph and The Sun faced a backlash from Love Island contestants Olivia Bowen and Chris Hughes for the use of his nickname ‘Muggy Mike’ highlighting how the media’s lack of discretion and respect needs to change.

There has been some discussion as of late to the connection between mental health and sudden fame. Other cases of sudden fame and its mental toil, such as Susan Boyle who was admitted to a London clinic in 2009, and Big Brother contestants such as Sarah Harding in 2017, have raised concerns over what can be done to help. The rise of social media is undoubtedly an additional pressure for celebrities.

Most Love Island contestants come out of the villa with thousands of new followers all wanting to know and comment on the personal details of their lives even after the show is finished. Feeling unprepared for lack of privacy, in addition to an unprecedented number of viewers and trolls, can trigger stress and anxiety in anyone, but especially those with underlying mental health issues, as stated by Dr. Jane Leonard in an interview with Yahoo.

Despite all this, the quest for fame seems to have intensified in modern times. Last year it was reported that Love Island had more applicants than Oxbridge. Regardless of the rigorous screening process and warnings, young people are still wanting to get a shot at a flicker of fame, raising the question – at what cost?


Image: Tumisu via Wikimedia Commons 

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