With news that ITV's The Jeremy Kyle Show has been cancelled this week, people are calling for Love Island to also be pulled. But should the shows be treated as one and the same?
Reality television and the supposed impact it has on us as an audience is well documented. We’re becoming a ‘dumbed down’, ‘passive’ audience who aspire to be famous rather than successful. Well, that’s if you believe what a lot of critics have to say. Maybe I’m a bit sensitive to the accusations, but there’s a certain degree of snobbery that is bandied about by people who claim not to watch reality TV.
Over the last year, I’ll admit I’ve become concerned about my own penchant for these easy-viewing shows. The deaths of Love Island stars Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis and the outcry they have caused on social media stopped me in my tracks. In both instances, I felt a pang of guilt - am I part of the problem?
There is a lot of speculation about these types of shows and the impact they can have on the audience’s sense of wellbeing. But, suddenly I’m not so concerned about the impact on us, the viewer. I’m now more preoccupied with the impact of reality TV on the participants themselves. Particularly since the news this week about the death of Steven Dymond, a guest who took part on The Jeremy Kyle Show.
There’s enormous potential for risk with these types of shows - a risk to the participants’ mental and emotional wellbeing. And I can’t help but wonder if enough is being done to watch and look after participants’ welfare?
It’s long days in front of the cameras and fuelled, at times, by lots of alcohol - or, at least, so you would think. Actually, suggestions have been made that producers save alcohol for the nights when they have big things planned - so the contestants feel the impact of it more.
Tyla Carr, who appeared on the 2017 series of Love Island, revealed that she was only allowed one glass of Prosecco a night. Speaking to The Sun, she commented: “You know something’s happening because you’re allowed an extra drink. You know when something’s about to go down.”
The debate on alcohol and its use by TV producers has surfaced again this week, with rumours that The Jeremy Kyle Show has also made use of this questionable tactic.
So, whilst on the surface, the two shows may look very different - one is a prime time, reality entertainment programme and the other is a day time pseudo-supportive entertainment programme - there are some distinct similarities. Most significantly, both shows now have had participants take their own lives, but that’s not where the similarities end.
These shows have a tendency to be a bit of a revolving door format - you’re in one week (or day), out the next. This disposable element could leave contestants feeling discarded. Counsellor Philip Karahassan says, “Throughout society, there is a felt ambition to be famous, and appearing on a TV show can help somewhat to get there. However, once they are out of the spotlight what are these people left with? It seems that the contestants are left abandoned after the show.”
Abandoned and left to process the emotional turmoil that they have endured through gaining five minutes of fame? Five minutes that haven’t best reflected the true nature of the participant.
Yes, whether it’s as the result of footage being shortened to fit with running time, being cut together to manipulate character development, asked probing or aggravating questions, or being plied with alcohol, viewers are not seeing the full picture.
Counselling Directory member Dr Sarah Jane Khalid tells Happiful: “When certain story lines are shaped and scenes edited, the TV producers have a level of power in showing certain sides to individuals which isn’t always positive. This can have a devastating effect on how they view themselves and how they are seen by the public. Case in point of Zara Holland in 2016 being stripped of her Miss GB title.”
Character defects can be exaggerated and TV villains can be constructed. You might think you appear one way, only to see yourself portrayed in a completely different light when the show airs. It’s why so many reality TV participants can suffer a type of post-traumatic stress syndrome after leaving the show.
It’s easy to see how a person could lose their sense of self - not only during but, perhaps more significantly, after the show airs. People are left having to face a society that thinks they know them because they watched a version of them on TV. Philip comments, “When the credits roll, the spotlight remains on them with an expectation to be the caricature of themselves that everyone has gotten so used to watching.
“This can leave these people’s identity left in tatters not knowing what to say, how to look and who to be. With no support, it is not surprising that they are left feeling stressed, anxious and abandoned.”
So, what support is available during and after these shows?
ITV has previously assured the public that there is something in place to help their Love Island contestants when it all becomes ‘too much’. Producers employ a professional psychologist to stay in the grounds of the villa so there is always someone for the contestants to talk to when the pressures of the show start taking their toll.
In terms of support offered to participants of The Jeremy Kyle Show, ITV released a statement: “The programme has significant and detailed duty of care processes in place for contributors pre, during and post-show which have been built up over 14 years. There have been numerous positive outcomes from this, including people who have resolved complex and long-standing personal problems.”
But, mental health professionals have called for change in light of recent deaths. Sarah Jane warns: “I think that TV producers need to take cautionary steps when selecting participants and after exiting the show. The age group that take part are often young adults who are still in the process of understanding themselves and forming beliefs about themselves as well as how they perceive the world around them.
“An assessment of the participants’ mental health should be carried out prior, after and then in regular follow-ups with access to psychological support. It’s all very well having onsite support but there needs to be greater support after the show as they learn of the storylines and public’s perception.”
Philip adds, “More needs to be done to safeguard contestants on reality TV so that they have the support to reintegrate themselves into real society with their newfound fame.”
Love Island has announced proactive changes to its processes in recent months. In a statement released to Digital Spy, ITV says it recognises its aftercare should be an “evolving process” and has now hired a physician to review its protocol. As a result, contestants will now receive financial and social media training as well as mental health counselling when leaving the villa.
Is this enough?
Fans of The Jeremy Kyle Show and critics of reality shows alike have hit out at ITV, accusing them of hypocrisy for axing one show and not the other.
However, fans of Love Island have jumped to the show’s defence.
And it’s not only fans of Love Island that agree pulling the Jeremy Kyle Show was the right decision. Others have taken to Twitter to have their say, including activist Gina Martin and political commentator Owen Jones.
Perhaps the most poignant message of all, though, comes from former X Factor contestant, Lucy Spraggan.
With the next series of Love Island due to kick off on 3rd June, this is controversial timing for ITV. We will wait with the rest of the nation to see how Love Island producers respond to this social media outcry and whether they will pay tribute to Mike Thalassitis when (or if) the next series airs.
Read the full story: Jeremy Kyle Cancelled As Mental Health Impact, Duty of Care and Ethics Questioned.
If you do experience distressing feelings/thoughts whilst watching or after watching these shows, contact the Samaritans for immediate support. Available 24/7 and free to call any time from any phone in the UK or ROI on 116 123; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.