The news that former ‘Love Island’ star Mike Thalassitis has died at the age of 26 has shocked the UK.
It’s not just the fact that another seemingly successful young person has apparently taken his own life, but the fact that the former footballer is the second ‘Love Island’ reality show contestant to have died.
While we can only speculate on the reasons these two young people allegedly chose to end their lives, it does raise questions about the potential connection between overnight fame and mental health.
Certainly it’s a concern for health secretary, Matt Hancock.
Speaking today at The Spectator Health Summit, London, the cabinet minister said: “I am very worried about the support for the mental health of contestants on reality TV shows.
“The sudden exposure to massive fame, I suppose, can have significant impacts on people and I think that it is a duty on any organisation that is putting people in the position of making them famous overnight, that they should also look after them afterwards.
“I think that people need to take responsibility for their duties to people’s well being very seriously.”
It is a sentiment echoed by fellow ‘Love Island’ star Jonny Mitchell, who also appeared in the 2017 series.
Mitchell told BBC Radio 5 Live that many people struggle to return to normal life after appearing on reality shows.
“If you come off one of the biggest shows on TV, you can’t go back to working in Tesco, it would be almost impossible, so it creates a lot of stress and a lot of strain on people,” he said.
“I know a lot of people who have come off the show who have suffered with depression.”
He added: “To come off a show that’s that big, to be tossed out into the world with no help, no guidance, no anything, it’s a massive shock and then you start thinking, ‘well, I’m famous, but what do I do next?’
“How do I move forward? How do I feed this lifestyle? How am I going to do anything that’s going to keep me going?”
The dark side of overnight fame
Dr Jane Leonard says the main issue for anyone who experiences sudden fame is feeling unprepared.
“This can trigger stress and anxiety in anyone especially those who may have underlying mental health problems,” she explains.
Although there are many positives to fame, she cites negatives including jealously from others, loss of friends and not knowing who genuinely has best your best interests at heart, compared to those who want to build relationships with you for their own personal gain.
That’s something Sheela Mackintosh-Stewart, a family lawyer, relationship guru and wellness expert agrees with.
“The pressures of instant fame include a wide range of issues including dealing with the public’s perception of them, potential social media backlash with trolling and the highly invasive UK press,” she says.
“Unsurprisingly, these issues can be too much for anyone without a support system to handle it. Over a period of time, unsupported and left to their own devises, many stars report a vicious cycle of negative feelings crowding their everyday thoughts including lack of self-worth, self-doubt, low self-esteem and feelings of utter bewilderment as they lurch from one negative feeling to another.”
Of course there is also the longevity of fame to consider, which for many reality TV stars, can be limited, meaning a large majority will also have to cope with the loss of fame they have only just started to get used to.
So what can be done?
Dr Leonard says there are some signs of depression and anxiety for friends and family of those who witness sudden fame to look out for.
Social isolation – people becoming withdrawn and avoiding social situations
Not enjoying the things they used
Appearing preoccupied, difficult to engage with others
Changes in appetite; Some people experience appetite loss whilst others comfort eat. You may notice people losing or gaining weight.
Coping mechanisms vary from person to person. A common one is misusing drugs and alcohol
Sigs of self-harm
She suggests that supporting and encouraging others to talk about how they are feeling is the first step.
“There are more support services available than you think and help can be tailored to your needs,” she adds.
Certainly some former reality show contestants think that shows could do more to help young overnight stars cope with the trappings of fame, both positive and negative.
Dom Lever, who appeared in series three of the show alongside Thalassitis, tweeted: “You get a psychological evaluation before and after you go on the show but hands down once you are done on the show you don’t get any support unless you’re number one.”
Jessica Rose, who appeared in the same series, said: “Shows offer you ‘support’ but realistically it’s only while you are in their care. Minute you get home & are no longer making them money it’s out of sight out of mind. There should be ongoing support & also financial advice. Life after these shows isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
By way of response a statement from ‘Love Island’, read out on BBC Radio 5 Live, and widely shared 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.”
Of course, this isn’t just a problem with that one particular show and even though more could possibly be done to monitor the mental health of contestants, certainly Mike’s tragic death is a reminder that perhaps we could all do more.
We all watched and likely judged as Mike was painted to be the show’s villain and branded as ‘Muggy Mike’, something he was continually referred to up until his death.
Not only does Mike’s death reinforce the need for constant and on-going support for contestants, but it’ serves as a poignant reminder to everyone who watches the shows to be mindful of the real life humans behind the screens and what we say to or about them.