Love Island producers still don’t get it when it comes to mental health

Last summer, quite surprisingly, I found myself watching nearly every episode of Love Island.

At the time, I wasn’t aware I was going to blog on it for the Mental Health Foundation at the end of the series, never mind write a follow up piece a year later.

But the events of the past year have shone the spotlight on reality TV – and not in the way that the producers would have wanted. Important points have been made about the lack of concern for mental health around these shows. Sadly, as the new 2019 series of Love Island approaches, the early evidence is that very little has been learned.

​TV adverts

Let’s start with a positive. During last summer’s show, it came to our attention that a cosmetic surgery company was showing online adverts targeted specifically at young women and girls. They painted the picture of the ‘perfect’ body and encouraged their audience to aspire to the ‘Love Island look’.

Research by the Foundation has shown that millions of teenagers and young people are feeling stressed, overwhelmed and unable to cope because they don’t feel comfortable with the way they look. These adverts exploited that.

However, we complained to the Advertising Standards Agency, who ruled that the advert breached advertising rules. So, we shouldn’t be seeing similar adverts this year, which is good news.

The line up

However, I mentioned in my piece last year that producers needed to be a bit more imaginative with the people who they choose to take part in the show.

We have just had Mental Health Awareness Week with a focus on body image. This would have been a good opportunity for a popular TV show to make a positive statement on body image by selecting a cast of people with all types of body. It’s no surprise that this hasn’t been the case.

By the looks of things, there are very few relatable bodies going onto the island – there are certainly no curves, stretch marks or scars in sight.

The producers are doing nothing to dispel the myth that the most attractive people all look a certain way. They have the power to put across a message that says a few fat rolls or a bit of cellulite doesn’t make someone unattractive - and yet year after year they waste that chance!

​The concept of the show

It’s not just who the producers cast on the show that needs more consideration, the way the show is conducted needs some serious thought.

Last year I was struck by the obsession with engineering controversy and situations on the show that would no doubt impact on contestants’ mental health.

I didn’t even know the half of it at the time. Listening to Jonny Mitchell on the Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast, some of what goes on behind the scenes is jaw-dropping. I thought the producers had little regard for the mental health of the contestants, and listening to Mitchell emphatically confirmed this.

Mitchell himself had body image issues which he had articulated to producers and these were purposely exploited in the show when he was forced to read out that only 12% of viewers found him attractive.

Mitchell was on the Guardian’s podcast soon after his friend and former contestant Mike Thalassitis had taken his own life. There are a number of reasons why people decide to end their lives and it is a complex topic. But people close to him believe Thalassitis’s decision was due to a number of issues that arose out of Love Island.

As I write this, the 2019 series is about to start. I hope that there are big changes here but this is doubtful.

Why am I so sceptical?

Well, ITV has said that there will be psychological support on hand during and after the show for anyone who needs it. This is a stunning mis-reading of the situation. If you are producing a show which requires so much psychological support to be necessary, you really need to give the show a rethink. There may be a place for it, but its current form clearly isn’t working. Sadly (like with the Jeremy Kyle Show) it’s taken someone to lose their life for people to take notice and even then the response is not good.

We need to be preventing mental ill health, not pushing people’s wellbeing to its limits and then picking up the pieces.

Written by Stuart Hill.

Hear what the Mental Health Foundation has to say about Love Island

We found that almost one in four people (24 per cent) aged 18 to 24 say reality TV makes them worry about their body image

Read now