Reality TV stars open up about mental health

  • img Harvey Cawdron
  • POSTED ON 30 Jul 2018
  • Watch Out


Love Island 2018 is about to finish, and aside from the potential £50,000 in prize money, the contestants will probably be offered sponsorship deals and the chance to appear at nightclubs when they leave the show, and will see a substantial increase in their popularity on social media. They will be famous, and will likely become millionaires.

However, ex-reality TV stars have issued warnings about the impact being on Reality TV can have on health, and have urged the producers behind such shows to provide better support to their contestants. 

Zara Holland, now 22, went on Love Island in 2016, and was stripped of her Miss Great Britain title after having sex on the show. At the time, Miss GB said it was unable to 'promote Zara as a positive role model' and that she 'did not uphold the responsibility expected of the title'. 

Almost 2 years on, Zara has told Newsbeat that being on the show has left her feeling anxious and depressed. She said 'I was tired all the time and I noticed a massive change in my personality. I kind of had no go-to at all and I wasn't really that happy. I never thought I'd be able to get out of this dark place I went to. It was really hard. It was a very weird experience and I never thought I'd be able to get better.' She was referred to a psychologist earlier this year and put on anti-depressants. She said 'When I sat down and talked to them we together pulled out the target points that triggered everything off and unfortunately that was from going on Love Island.'

Love Island has stated that it takes its duty of care to contestants 'very seriously and this is always our top priority'. 

24-year-old Sarah Goodhart appeared on series 14 of Geordie Shore, the MTV show that 'follows a group of lads and lasses from Newcastle'. She has concerns that Reality TV will 'push someone too far' one day. She Uploaded a Youtube video called 'The Truth' in which she accused the reality TV industry of being 'corrupt'. She also says that during the casting people, these shows deliberately 'look for' people who are 'broken' and 'unstable', commenting on the fact that her tagline in the promotional video was 'psycho Sarah'.

Speaking to Newsbeat, Sarah said 'I just thought I was going to be rich. It was the opposite. I put myself in debt, my panic attacks were worse than ever.' She had anxiety and depression before appearing on the show, but admits to being dishonest during a psychological evaluation to assess her suitability because she really wanted to be picked. Sarah claimed that on the show she felt 'trapped', and that her requests for help were overlooked. 

Sarah said that 'On down days my request was to phone home and twice that request was ignored and I just felt very neglected. I didn't feel like I could talk to anyone about it because the schedule was so tight there was no time. I brought up a few times that I needed to speak to someone because I was losing my head a little bit but I was very rarely granted that chance.

A Geordie Shore spokesperson said that the welfare of contributors is of 'paramount importance' to the organisations that make the show, Lime Pictures and MTV. 

These comments come just weeks after the death of the former Love Island contestant, Sophie Gradon. Both Zara and Sarah knew Sophie as Zara appeared on Love Island in the same year and both Sophie and Sarah lived in Newcastle. 

Sophie had previously spoken about her battles with depression and anxiety, In October 2016 she tweeted 'Feel so guilty when my anxiety takes over, for not wanting to see or speak to anyone. Some days I get so overwhelmed I just want to nap!' 

Zara said that there was a psychiatrist available 24/7 whilst Love Island was being filmed, but has speculated as to whether or not Sophie received enough support after the show. Sarah stated that 'I can't sit here and say that it was 100% Love Island that did this to her but I think it was a contributory factor. It's actually quite sad how many times Sophie has reached out to friends and said 'This experience wasn't good for me.''

In recent weeks, the mental health of this year's Love Island contestants has been an area of focus. 

Media watchdog Ofcom received over 2,000 complaints about the treatment of Dani Dyer, all regarding a misleading video she was shown of her boyfriend Jack Fincham. They have been coupled up since the beginning of the show, but at one point the girls and boys were placed in separate villas. The video showed Jack's ex-partner Ellie Jones in the new villa with him, causing her to burst into tears. 

Eleana Davidson tweeted 'With everything recently that has happened with the #loveisland circle, you’d think the mental health of the contestants would be @ITV’s no 1 priority. Clearly not the case, and what they have put the likes of Dani through is just distasteful in the current climate.' 

Ofcom refused to investigate the complaints because viewers 'are likely to expect emotionally charged scenes'. 

Many reality TV programmes have psychologists to assess contestants before the start of the show, and to offer support throughout filming.

Behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings, whose repertoire includes working on Big Brother, says that if she does not think that the contestant has the right coping mechanism she would recommend that they do not go on reality TV. 

She says that her advice is followed most of the time, but there are exceptions. She said 'One time I had to go into a show during filming. I indicated there was some vulnerability and the producers hadn't done background checks officially and I had to ask this guy to leave in the middle of filming.'

She wishes for reality TV shows to offer aftercare of up to a year for contestants after the show has finished. She said 'A show is not finished when you stop broadcasting. Those feelings go way beyond filming and production companies need to make sure their contributors are looked after'. 

Sarah hopes to see more aftercare as well. She said 'Since I have said something I've had other people come to me from shows like TOWIE and Made In Chelsea who've said: 'I've experienced not even just depression - suicidal feelings following television and I didn't know anyone else felt like that'. And I think it's fair to say if it's making more than one person feel like they might potentially end their life then that's when a change needs to be made.'

Zara has conceded that reality TV contestants are aware of what they are getting themselves into before going on the shows. She says that there were some amazing elements to being on Love Island and not everyone has had the same experiences as her. 

However, she wants to make people aware of the possible negative impact that going on reality TV can have. She said 'You can earn a lot of money if that's what you want to do but really you need to look at the bigger picture and think in five, six, 10 years' time you're always going to be pretty much known for being on a reality TV show. It was a really hard time for me. And if I could turn back time I really wish I'd never gone on the show.'

A Love Island Spokesperson told Newsbeat that 'there is a lot of inaccuracy' in statements criticising the show. They added that 'All of our islanders are offered psychological support before, during and after their time in the villa. We discuss with islanders, before and after the show, how their lives might change and the difficulties they might face. We direct them towards taking on professional representation after the villa, and help them through this process, so that they have experienced help as they face those pressures.' 

The spokesperson claimed that Zara had management both before and after the show, and 'we were in constant contact with her representation throughout the process'. They added that 'Members of the production team maintained contact with her in the months after she left the villa.' 

However, contrary to these statements, in late June the Daily Mail reported that Zara said ''I changed as a person, I didn’t want to go out or socialise, I came out of Love Island and they didn’t contact me. Love Island called me for the first time in two years on Thursday to ask if I was OK, funny they call me now when something ­terrible has happened. People applying need to know how serious things can be, they see a claim to fame, they don’t see that in ten years’ time, when you’re married with bab­ies, you’ll still be haunted for the rest of your life.'

A Geordie Shore spokesperson said 'We work alongside independent medical professionals to ensure an appropriate support structure is in place prior to filming and throughout. All contributors are additionally offered support post-filming if it is required.'

Some have spoken favourably of the care they received on Love Island, with former contestant Tom Powell saying 'The show was crazy. But they took care of us. Anyone who says  otherwise is talking bullsh*t. After you leave the show you speak to the psychologist and you were always checking in with her. We had a lot of care after the show. They took great care of us.'