‘Love Island’ Returns Amid Debate About Contestants’ Mental Health – Smart Media Magazine

‘Love Island’ Returns Amid Debate About Contestants’ Mental Health

LONDON — It seemed like business as usual when a new season of “Love Island” aired here Monday night. All the familiar elements of the cult reality show were there, with the luxury villa in Spain and the skimpy swimsuits.

But as the credits rolled, the sunny atmosphere darkened and a black screen appeared with a photograph of Michael Thalassitis, a former contestant who killed himself in March. The episode had been dedicated to his memory.

Thalassitis was one of two former “Love Island” contestants whose suicide stirred a debate in Britain over the ethics of reality television and the duty that broadcasters have to care for contestants.

“On a big reality show, it’s not uncommon to have 24-hour access to psychological services,” she said. “People in everyday life don’t get access to that.”

While the debate in Britain about reality TV and mental health is being conducted in the news media and in Parliament, the genre faces similar controversies in other countries, but without the same level of scrutiny.

Melody Parks said she saw things that were “exploitative, inappropriate and unethical” while working in reality TV.

Parks, who worked on a number of American reality shows, including “The Real World” and “Bad Girls Club,” has since left the industry and retrained as a family therapist. She said her new line of work made her see these programs in a different light. “I’m more cognizant of how people are triggered, sometimes intentionally, in order to get an explosive reaction,” she said.

She added that she would like to see producers directly address questions of mental health in reality TV shows. “When someone has a meltdown or a fight, producers could encourage casts to share what triggered them, how the situation affected them,” Parks said.

Sometimes, this happens organically. In last year’s “Love Island,” a contestant talked about how her feelings about her body had been shaped by childhood bullying. And reality TV stars have used their fame to further the conversation around mental health after the show has aired. Nadiya Hussain, the 2015 winner of “The Great British Bake Off,” spoke candidly in interviews about her struggle with anxiety and appeared in a BBC documentary about her experiences.

“We were on the right path when everyone was talking about mental health,” said Mitchell, the former “Love Island” contestant, “but I just think that people are too fickle.”

“People have such short memories,” he said, predicting that some “Love Island” viewers would just go “back to trying to destroy the people who have signed up for it.”

“If this kind of show is still going to happen, it has to be done properly,” he added. “We can’t be sacrificing people’s lives and their mental health for the sake of seven weeks of TV.”

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