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The dark side of fame

By Alex Lambden

Last week, news broke that former Love Island star, Mike Thalassitis, had tragically passed away due to a confirmed suicide. This has become the second Love Island star that has fallen to the same fate, after Sophie Gradon is thought to have taken her own life nine months prior in June 2018. The unfortunate passing of these two reality TV stars brings up a fundamental question: ‘Should the producers of Love Island be doing more to protect their stars after the show?’

Since Mike’s death, it has been reported that all of the former Love Island stars were contacted and offered bereavement counselling as well as other mental health services. However, Jonny Mitchell, who participated in the show’s 2017 series, found this move to be ‘laughable’ and ‘a little too late’. Jonny revealed that once the final of the show is aired, the stars are not contacted for any wellness support, only for work on other ITV projects. Fellow Love Island star, Zara Holland, spoke about the effects of overnight fame and the nightmare of readjusting to regular life after the show. Fake friends, short-lived fame, internet abuse: these are all weights that these stars must carry after their departure from the show. The lack of aftercare for these young reality TV stars is worrying, and it is obvious that they are unaware of what their lives will be like after the show. Whilst some fans have been pressuring ITV to cancel the show out of respect for Mr Thalassitis and Miss Gradon, I believe that the best option is to follow the former contestant’s criticism and make sure that past and future contestants are given more extensive mental preparation and aftercare to ensure that they can continue their new lives in a positive and healthy way.

Mental health struggles are a huge problem among contestants from other reality TV shows as well. The Apprentice and Celebrity Big Brother star, Andrew Brady, has written in his blog about the pressures of stardom such as paranoia about media lies, money worries and keeping up with a drug-fuelled party lifestyle. The pressure of sustaining fame can become overwhelming too, with some stars like Dom Lever and Jessica Shears signing seven-digit business deals, whilst other past contestants have had to return to their day job. The untimely passing of Mike has brought focus to the intensity of TV stardom, and it is important to remember that every contestant faces a different experience. Some may feel that they need no support, whilst others may need lots, but the option of mental health support should be made available by reality television producers.

Whilst we idolise these TV stars, it is important to remember that they are just as human as we are. Scrolling through Instagram, it is easy to think that each one possesses a perfect and ideal life, but they face mental health struggles just like all of us. It is important that TV bosses acknowledge the contestant’s humanity, rather than profit, and that changes are made to the system to ensure that reality television is able to create a healthy and sustainable launching pad for a career. Thankfully, this has not been another empty tragedy that peaks our interest on social media for three days and then vanishes off the face of the earth. Further to this, Love Island have undertaken a review and have extended support to ‘all contestants’ of the show as opposed to those who ‘just reach out’. Taking a proactive approach is the best way to protect these people from such a stressful experience, and while offering mental health services to those once they finish the show should have been considered from the get-go (as the pressure on stars can be psychologically pressing in the long run even after they’re back to ‘reality’ as it were), it’s a move that has come better late than never and hopefully provides future contestants with the assurance they need.

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