By Rebecca Astill
Reality TV and mental health are two topics becoming increasingly intertwined in today’s society. ITV’s Love Island forefronts the debate between creating ‘good’ television, and its effect on the individuals’ mental health. This season has already sparked Ofcom complaints and concerns for the health of the islanders, including Anna and Amber’s reactions towards Danny following Yewande’s exit, Joe’s perceived controlling behaviour towards Lucie, and Amy’s breakdown after Curtis’ interest in another islander.
The shock suicide of series 3’s Mike Thalassitis earlier this year triggered two ITV press releases detailing their long overdue improved mental health measures. Their main message was ‘for us to no longer be reliant on the islanders asking us for support but for us to proactively check in with them on a regular basis’, but is this enough? It is difficult to believe the sincerity when the producers’ quest for entertainment is the reason for the issues.
They have stuck to their word in some instances, as producers allegedly stepped in to warn islanders against bullying following 192 Ofcom complaints about Anna and Amber’s treatment of Danny. The girls’ distaste towards his choosing of Arabella over their friend Yewande climaxed when Anna shouted ‘urghh!’ as Danny kissed Arabella the same night as she left. The remark split the nation, some calling the 28-year-old ‘childish’ and ‘pathetic’, while others commended her loyalty. Danny and Arabella didn’t seem overly troubled, and it is questionable why ITV would step in in this instance over others. Although snide, the comment was harmless. ITV only acted concerned when receiving public complaints which might have affected ratings.
Another big issue this series has been Joe’s reaction to Lucie’s friendship with Tommy. Joe received a backlash in the media after telling Lucie that he didn’t want her being friends with Tommy. At the time, the nation sided with Lucie, labelling Joe as controlling. This was a big call considering only a snippet of the whole story had been broadcast. Viewers were whipped into a frenzy by the Women’s Aid statement condemning Joe’s behaviour as warning signs of an abusive relationship. This statement did more harm than good, with it since coming to light that Joe was right about Lucie’s feelings towards Tommy. Ex Islander Olivia Attwood (series 3) apologised publicly on behalf of fans on Love Island’s Aftersun.
It begs the question of whether it is fair to form an opinion on any reality TV star. The producers have the power to ensure that we only see a tiny morsel of directed footage to fit a certain narrative. They can turn the purest of hearts into a villain by manipulating innocent comments in their editing choices.
Despite ITV’s insistence that they have improved their mental health and aftercare measures, there is clearly no real attempt to prevent the issue in the first place – only to cure them. An episode rarely airs where at least one islander isn’t crying – something which seems wrongly normalised in reality TV.
Producers recently removed Amy from the villa for psychological therapy following her breakdown over Curtis. In her private beach hut comments, she has said worrying statements such as ‘he’s taken away my future’. As a self-confessed musical lover, the Air Hostess wears her heart on her sleeve. She is yet to learn that life is not a musical. Amy confessed that she was in love with Curtis, only to be faced with Curtis telling her that he couldn’t promise that he wouldn’t cheat again. Her behaviour has become increasingly concerning and obsessive. She even asked Curtis to tell her what he doesn’t like about her, making for an uncomfortable watch.
This came following the Casa Amor episodes – which Amber also fell victim to. After returning to the villa, Amber found herself single after partner Michael coupled up with new girl Joanna. Whenever asked for reasoning, Michael responded by aggressively gaslighting Amber. Women’s Aid defines gaslighting as ‘a partner questioning your memory of events, trivialising your thoughts or feelings, and turning things around to blame you’. Ofcom received 200 complaints, as yet again, the girl was left finding faults with herself. Women are constantly called childish and crazy when standing up for themselves.
There was no official statement about the behaviour of Michael. His unprecedented anger and disrespect towards Amber surely posed more of a threat of abuse than Joe’s expression of concern. However, with no official complaint, the producers did not step in.
What makes these cases even more worrying is the amount of impressionable young girls who watch the show. The Casa Amor episodes are the most hyped up of each season. They offer everything which people watch Love Island for – scandal, arguments, and shocking twists. They are also the reason for the most upsets in the villa. ITV producers seem on hand to deal with the fallout of this, but only because they set it up in the first place.
At the end of the day, mental health has to be the most important conversation. Sadly, Love Island’s undeniable success has come at a cost. If this is going to change, press releases need acting upon, and no more lives can be lost as a result of viewers’ pleasure. Although things are changing, ITV are still not doing enough to look after the pawns in their game.