Column: Mental Health Problems Are No Laughing Matter, So Why Does TV Still Parade Them as Such?

By Adam Humphreys

With an increase in the reports of mental health problems and related suicide cases, why do TV shows still insist on airing them?

If you have been a viewer, or fan, of shows such as ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show’ or ‘Love Island’ for the past couple of years you will no doubt be aware of the recent reports of suicides of former guests and contestants from the shows. This begs a question, and one which seriously needs to be asked. If, as viewers and fans, we claim that we care about people we watch on TV shows then why do we enjoy watching them have mental breakdowns? Many people would call that cruel.

In many ways it’s like the circus sideshows back in the late 19th Century when people with various ailments were paraded before crowds of onlookers. They were made to be seen at their worst with very little or no consideration to their well-being. How ironic it is that similar things are happening decades later down the line, but one thing we’ve got to ask ourselves is; why do we take delight in watching people have meltdowns on TV?

Let me give you an example – earlier this year the popular daytime ITV show, ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show’, came under fire when one of its guests committed suicide not long after filming. But going back to the example I gave you earlier, selected guests are paraded before the audience and are subjected to boos or heckles. The host, Jeremy Kyle, whom let’s face it isn’t exactly empathetic, subjects the guests to verbal onslaughts and criticisms, barely seeming to regard the effect on their individual well-being.

All that combined with the hysteria from the audience doesn’t do much for any individual’s mentality.

Another example is the suicides of two former ‘Love Island’ contestants, Mike and Sophie. Now it’s not really certain exactly how much of a part the show played in their deaths, but one thing it did bring into question was the aftercare of contestants. Here’s a basic idea of how it can go; one minute you’re living a normal life, then you’re on a TV show before millions of viewers where practically everything you do is visible. Whilst on the show, you become a topic of discussion on social media. Then after the show ends, you’re thrust into the spotlight and into the public wrath with nowhere to escape. Not great for your mental health is it!

When it comes to our obsession with reality TV, many of us seem to forget that underneath all the arguments, tears and the occasional fist fights, we’re watching actual people, not animals. In some cases, there’s nowhere to hide – the contestants are held in close confinement in what might as well be an elaborate prison, and all for the sake of entertainment.

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