The death of my mate Mike Thalassitis shows that reality TV is costing lives | Jonny Mitchell

The way this industry operates is toxic. Shows such as Love Island have to take better care of contestants

Those of us who are grieving the loss of our mate Mike Thalassitis, who died on Saturday, remain shocked at his death. However, even now, you won’t need to look very far on social media to identify attacks and trolling that are the norm for people who have been on reality TV shows. One thing’s for sure, when the producers of Love Island sold us “the dream”, they never warned us about the reality we could face.

“They know what they’re getting into”, people say. If only that were true, how differently things might have turned out. I’m trying to get to grips with what’s just happened. A 26-year-old guy. My friend. He couldn’t go on. This isn’t a show. This is the real thing.

The reality is this: within a year, two contestants of Love Island have found themselves in such a dark place that they have taken their own lives. And, as a former contestant of Love Island, I know that there are many others who left the show and were hit with depression following a baptism of fire that they never anticipated, were not properly warned about, and then were left to their own devices to deal with when the sun set on the season.

As part of the contestant selection process, there are screenings with psychologists. I remember having two. They don’t want you going on the show if you’re likely to be badly affected by it. But once the show’s over, that’s not their problem any more. Well, that’s wrong. Producers and broadcasters of reality TV shows have a duty of care to the young and often vulnerable people they parade before the world. It is their edits and cuts that create perceptions of people that can be at best half-formed, and at worst misleading and unfair.

Luckily for me, the constant attacks on my character on social media (and sometimes offline) – something that we all face – did not faze me so much. But for others trying to adjust to life after Love Island, help and support is desperately needed. The young people going into that environment are shot to fame literally overnight, then they are cut loose to handle all alone what’s waiting for them – it’s wrong, and something these reality shows need to take into account. It’s time for them to wake up and see that the way this industry operates is completely toxic, and it’s costing lives.

Young people who might be savvy on Instagram and have a following of 200 friends don’t know how little it takes to suddenly be in the crosshairs of a media storm, and the impact that can have on mental health. To be fair, lots of people in the public eye get this exposure without really knowing it was coming. But that doesn’t make it OK.

That’s why I’m working with Change.org to launch a campaign to target Love Island, and other reality TV shows, demanding a new duty of care for contestants.

They need to start fully explaining the negatives of entering this world and provide support for whatever eventuality people face on the other side. There needs to be a compulsory aftercare scheme in place for people who are now suffering just so they could make a good TV show. ITV and Love Island, it’s time to care.

A statement from Love Island, read out on 5 Live, said: “Care for our islanders is a process the show takes very seriously and is a continuous process for all those taking part in the show. We ensure that all of our contributors are able to access psychological support before, during and after appearing on the show.

“The programme will always provide ongoing support when needed and where appropriate. We also discuss at length with all of our islanders before and after the show how their lives might change, and they have access to support and advice to help with this.”

• Jonny Mitchell is a former Love Island contestant

• In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org

Contributor

Jonny Mitchell

The GuardianTramp

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