Love Island season is upon us again, this time with new contestant welfare measures. The question is, since Ofcom announced guidance in April of this year to protect reality TV stars from poor mental health and wellbeing, has the show changed?
The measures, named as ‘duty of care protocols’ include welfare plans that support the Love Island participants before, during and after filming. These include:
- Comprehensive psychological support
- Training for all Islanders on the impacts of social media and handling of potential negativity
- Training for all Islanders on financial management
- Detailed conversations with islanders regarding the impact of participation on the show
- A proactive aftercare package which extends support to all islanders following their participation on the show
- Guidance and advice on taking on management after the show
Part of the more detailed protocols also ensure that a registered mental health professional is engaged with participants throughout the whole series. It is clear that since Ofcom announced their guidance to protect the mental wellbeing of reality TV stars, to “ensure that broadcasters take due care of people who may be at risk of significant harm due to their participation in programmes”, Love Island has responded responsibly and with the level of seriousness the matter deserves, especially considering the tragic deaths of three people associated with the show.
It is encouraging to see that ITV will regularly review these measures “in line with the increasing popularity of the show”.
In another positive turn of events, Dr Alex George, a former contestant on Love Island has become a voice for mental health awareness for younger people, so much so that he is now the UK Youth Mental Health Ambassador for the Department of Education.
Someone with so many young people watching, being influenced by him, especially young men has the potential to de-stigmatise mental health immeasurably.
On this matter, Lorna Evans, Psychotherapist and spokesperson for the UK Council of Psychotherapy (UKCP) wrote into us with some fascinating insights into this very potential for contestants of Love Island, and the show itself to fight against the perpetuating damaging mental health attitudes.
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Love Island might seem like an unlikely show for a psychotherapist to witness potential for good in but Lorna had this to say:
“Why do I love Love Island? Yes, it gives me something to do before bed, that’s sunny with a spritz of drama, guaranteeing no mention of world chaos. But most importantly, I love Love Island because I have first-hand experience that this show gets young people into therapy.”
“Year on year, more and more young people arrive in my therapy room to tell me that they have always wanted to come to therapy as they have seen it on reality TV shows and social media since they were young. It has been normalised, even made desirable. Young people today show up to therapy with a willingness to do the work, carrying significantly less stigma than older generations.”
Here, Lorna spoke of reality TV stars who have taken to social media platforms to “openly talk about therapy as a positive alternative to taking medication, managing their mental health and wellbeing” and specifically mentions Dr Alex George who Lorna notes, since taking part in Love Island has been extremely successful in spreading positive awareness and encouraged talking about mental health in a de-stigmatised way.
Off the back of this personal interest for Lorna, she recently worked with MTV to film therapy sessions for Geordie Shore. Lorna emphasised in her writing to us that she was “highly impressed with the producers’ respect for mental health and the airtime they gave to our work”.
This kind of coverage is obviously of interest to the general public, especially the younger audience as Lorna points out, “the episode we created is one of their most watched and gained over 1.7 million views on social media.”
It is in instances such as Dr Alex George’s advocation for prioritising mental health in young people, and the experience Lorna Evans had in her involvement on the Geordie Shore episode that truly displays the potential for reality shows, and reality TV stars, when handled correctly to create positive change.
One of the main factors motivating this is that many of the young people watching shows like Love Island and Geordie show, see themselves in their stars more than they would in British Royalty such as Prince Harry, or actors and singers such as Chris Evans and Demi Lovato.
In many ways, the behaviours, attitudes, likes and dislikes portrayed by realty TV stars such as those on Love Island are a reflection of the same world the viewers themselves live in.
Unfortunately this effect can turn around and work against positive change too, something which Lorna Evans made sure to articulate in her writing to us.
“ITV2 has received ongoing criticism for the lack of diversity and inclusivity in Love Island. The show consistently casts slim, toned, aesthetically enhanced women and muscular, hairless men with one or two contestants who are claimed to be ‘plus sized’ or ’curvy’. This creates a set of unattainable beauty standards and its negative impact is difficult to overlook.”
“The show has quite rightly also been criticised for its lack of casting people of colour and this year for the first time in seven series they have cast the show's first contestant with a disability, a move that will hopefully mark the start of change in reality TV.”
Lorna Evans ended her thoughts on Love Island and it’s potential to influence young people and their attitudes towards mental health by saying, “My hope for this season of Love Island, with the show's openness to talk about mental health and therapy, is that it will encourage more young people to think about therapy as an option to begin unpacking the pandemic's impact on their lives.”
With or without controversy, Love Island continues to be one of the most watched shows on TV in the UK. The show’s tendency to uphold damaging western beauty standards, their struggles to have more LGBTQ+ representation are all issues that it must continue to tackle.
Something it can address easily, and that, as Lorna demonstrated in her writing, can have great impact, is the current lack of meaningful discussion around mental health in reality TV. This must start with the framework of the show itself and the new ‘duty of care protocols’ certainly suggests this is moving in the right direction.