Amid concerns for participants' mental health, reality show Love Island launches in Canada

The latest hit reality TV show Love Island has raised concerns about the effect of these types of shows on contestants' mental health and whether producers are doing enough.

British reality show prompted inquiry into whether contestants get enough psychological support

Love Island, the most popular reality television show in the U.K., launches in Canada July 9. The dating show has prompted concerns that the mental health of participants isn't properly safeguarded. Two previous contestants died by suicide. (Twitter/ITV2)

A British reality show that's been called "Tinder on TV" and sparked a government inquiry in the U.K. following mental health concerns is now making its way to North American TV screens. 

Love Island, which stars attractive 20-something singles looking for love, has reeled in millions of viewers in the U.K. during its past five seasons. Its success at attracting young audiences and generating major revenue spawned international versions in Australia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway and Sweden. Now, the controversial series will air five nights a week in the U.S. and Canada starting July 9.

"It's a little trashier than you might see on a regular reality show," said Calum Marsh, a National Post journalist who has written frequently about reality TV. "And it's proud of that trashiness and it's meant to be kind of like the ultimate guilty pleasure."

Love Island contestants live in a Spanish villa, where they have to couple up for love, friendship or money. A cash prize is the main motivation but challenges along the way force pairs to swap, switch or "re-couple." 

Singles are dumped from the island and public voting can also remove players. Like previous popular reality TV shows such as Survivor, Big Brother and The Bachelor/The Bachelorette, participants are under constant surveillance.

Love Island producers have agreed to provide more mental health support for participants, including eight post-show therapy sessions. (Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)

"It kind of is a breeding ground for the worst elements of human nature," said Marsh.

So much so, in fact, that backlash against the show for its vulgar language, abusive behaviour and unrealistic body portrayals isn't even the worst of it.

Suicides spark British government inquiry

Two past Love Island contestants took their own lives after appearing on the show.

This, along with a third suicide on the now cancelled The Jeremy Kyle Show, led the British parliament's digital, culture, media and sport committee to launch an inquiry into reality TV late last month.

It's currently investigating whether television networks offer guests enough support after they appear on reality programs.

You sign up for one of these shows and you don't know, first of all, how successful the show will be, and you don't know how successful you will be on the show. And the negativity just comes along with it."- Kevin Wendt, former

Since the deaths and subsequent inquiry, Love Island producers have said they will increase psychological support for contestants after they leave the show. Assistance will include eight therapy sessions, training on how to handle social media and financial management support.

Honey Langcaster-James, who worked as the resident psychologist on one of Love Island's earlier seasons, said the time is right to "review" the kind of mental health resources available on television shows, whether they're scripted or reality-style.

Psychologist and TV consultant Honey Langcaster-James says more attention should be paid to reality contestants' mental health when they return home. (CBC)

"We don't fully understand yet how best to support people with the change when someone comes off a reality show," said Langcaster-James, who has also provided contestant commentary on episodes of the British Big Brother franchise. Pressure related to their social media profiles can impact former participants on a daily basis, she said. 

"People seem to think that just because you live in the public eye or you're on TV or you're in the movies that somehow you've got this amazing life and you should be able to weather any criticism that comes your way because you've chosen a public life."

'I found myself to be really depressed'

But not everyone — even those who sign up for the gig — is prepared for what can happen after the show goes to air. 

Canadian firefighter Kevin Wendt, who appeared on The Bachelorette Canada in 2016 and two American Bachelor spinoffs, understands the unanticipated perils of reality TV. He said the non-stop feedback from those invested in a series can be debilitating.

"You sign up for one of these shows and you don't know, first of all, how successful the show will be, and you don't know how successful you will be on the show. And the negativity just comes along with it." 

Former reality TV contestant Kevin Wendt speaks to CBC News in Toronto on July 2, 2019. (Nigel Hunt/CBC)

Wendt said his first reality TV experience forced him to seek therapy afterwards in order to cope with the "reality show bubble" contestants are placed in and the toll viewer backlash can take.

"When you just read a few comments online that you're this, and that, it can really ruin your day and it can really push you into a depression. And I found myself to be pretty depressed."

The former reality star, who met his current significant other on Bachelor in Paradise, said he's since learned to prioritize mental health and feels much better. He also believes the current fallout could serve as a cautionary tale for wannabe celebrities.

"This will maybe get people to think about [the repercussions] before they sign up," he said.

Where to get help:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service Toll-free: 1-833-456-4566. Text: 45645. Chat: crisisservicescanada.ca.

In French: Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

Kids Help Phone: Toll-free: 1-800-668-6868. Chat: kidshelpphone.ca. App: Always There by Kids Help Phone.

If you're worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them about it, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

Here are some warning signs:

  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Purposelessness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Feeling trapped.
  • Hopelessness and helplessness.
  • Withdrawal.
  • Anger.
  • Recklessness.
  • Mood changes.

With files from Sharon Wu and Tashauna Reid


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