Love Island: Reality TV can be unhealthy for participants as well as viewers

From the World Cup to the heatwave, this summer has seen the UK preoccupied with many things.

Ibe thing that has captured the hearts and minds of the nation, or most of it anyway, is Love Island.

Numerous stories about the reality show have dominated the headlines over the last few months, including its lucrative advantages and its eye-opening Brexit debate.

While we have been wasting away the hours wondering what Dr Alex will awkwardly do next or if Dani and Jack can see it out till the end, did we stop to ponder the bigger questions about appearing on reality television?

Reality television is a tasking and arduous experience, which can sometimes take a severe mental toll on its participants.

Earlier this year, a former Love Island star, Sarah Gradon, took her own life at the age of 32.

With this in mind, indy100 reporter Narjas Zatat spoke with TV presenter and mental health advocate Anna Williamson about the demands of a show like Love Island and the long-lasting mental impact it can have on contestants and viewers.

Picture: Anna Williamson(Nils Jorgensen/REX/Shutterstock)

What are the dangers of participating in reality television shows?

All contestants on reality TV shows go through a very stringent process of psychological assessment by the production team.

Reality shows are coming on the fire for a parent to not look after contestants mental health, but in fact there are a lot of procedures put in place to ensure that contestants are psychologically/mentally cared for as well as physically.

There is always an on-site psychologist /counsellor to intervene privately away from cameras at any time should either the production deem it necessary or the contestant ask for support. 

Contestants need to remember from the very beginning, that this is essentially all about entertainment.

It is something that needs to be really thoroughly thought through before anybody puts themselves in a position to be publicly scrutinised... because that is the reality of what being on the shows means… opening yourself wide open to criticism and judgement.

It is a natural reaction from a viewer, but it can be extremely overwhelming for any contestant suddenly face a barrage of opinion, which is often not always positive. 

Even the thickest-skinned of people can feel vulnerable when strangers are offering up uncensored opinion. If self-esteem and confidence is knocked, there is a danger that anxiety, stress and low mood can creep in.

Which is why it is essential to care for one’s mental health when even thinking about appearing on a reality show.

What are some of the potential mental health issues related to being in the public eye and participating in reality tv?

As I’ve just mentioned, some of the most common mental health challenges related to being in the public eye stem from confidence and self-esteem issues.

This can cause a rise in the stress response and anxious thoughts and feelings.

If left untreated, there is a potential that these feelings can spiral, and other challenges can creep in such as depression.

In what ways do you think shows like Love Island feed into social anxieties about weight, self-image, etc?

There is inherently nothing wrong with a bunch of ‘beautiful’ people parading around on TV. The issues arise when the viewer measures themselves against the contestants they see on the television.

This is where the onus should be put on the viewer, and to remind oneself that everybody is different, beauty comes in different packages, and recognising one’s own strengths and good points is essential in not letting any self-doubt creep in.

Image is just one part of who we are, and it’s important to remember that ‘what is beautiful’ really is in the eye of the beholder, and comes in many different forms.

Personality and intelligence is often overlooked when recognising ones strong points when it is extremely important. 

The tv regulator Ofcom received 650 complaints about producers introducing an ex-girlfriend into the Love Island on the grounds that it caused emotional distress for a contestant. Do you think reality tv should have stricter regulation?

Most contestants are aware of how the shows work. There is every likelihood that they have seen the previous series so are mindful of what potentially could happen.

It is always important to remember that these are real emotions, even though they might be on TV, but as a viewer, we are only seeing an edited down package, and producers are none the wiser of how any contestant may react upon any ‘story point’.

Sometimes it may ‘backfire’. But from working within reality production teams, I would be extremely surprised if the producers hadn’t immediately reassured the contestant in question, and would not have left her in a state of distress unsupported. 

What is the impact of such reality TV on younger viewers?

The fact that such a high proportion of children and teens are interested in reality shows just goes to show how popular peering into other people’s lives is amongst young people.

In the world of social media, YouTube etc, there are so many ways young people like to connect with others in their peer groups... there is a worry that certain reality shows put out a biased, unrealistic expectation on how people should look/act/be, and yes, there is a danger that impressionable children respond in a way that may be worrying to parents.

It is incredibly important then that parents reassure their children and teens that this is TV, there has been a casting process to get a ‘certain character’ for the show, and it’s entertainment.

Highlighting their strong points, their individuality, and helping them get a healthy balance on what is real, acceptable, and just a bit of fun… Is key in ensuring they are well balanced emotionally, mentally, and physically.

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