Reality, but not as we know it.

No matter how much we want to write about Game of Thrones some more after the season finale this week, we’re restraining ourselves and instead turning our attention to a different form of entertainment. Reality tv. Last week saw the long-awaited downfall of the Jeremy Kyle Show after the tragic death of a participant, and it’s opened the floodgates for social workers to explain to the rest of the world just how much damage this style of television can do. For years, our community has been able to see the way reality tv affects those who are involved in a show and the general population who watch it. Practitioners, in particular those who specialise in mental health conditions, understand how the spotlight of reality tv can twist the way people approach reality. Now our time has come to campaign for a serious re-examination of the moral, societal and psychological impacts of our current obsession with “reality” tv.

The problem is, it’s nowhere near reality.

I honestly don’t care whether you keep up with the Kardashians and every new ridiculously named child they add to their brood, live your life according to the gospel from contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race or instead you are desperate to be a Real Housewife of Cheshire. We all have a free and independent will to watch whatever terrible tv we choose as long as it is not causing harm to others. However, if you buy into the notion of reality tv, then you need to think – is it really not causing any harm at all?

The news has been filled with the recent death associated with The Jeremy Kyle Show, but this is just the latest in endless cases of mental health issues that are a product of involvement in this style of entertainment programme. 2 former contestants of Love Island have committed suicide after their time in the villa, and many reality “stars” are using the recent focus to shine a light on the lack of support from show producers; despite the evident damage being done. These extravagant or divisive lifestyles are played out for the world to see, pitching the emotionally heightened and sensationalised storylines they are “living” as real life. Naturally, this will never end well.

Reality tv brings ordinary people to new heights of fame and allows millions of people to invade their privacy and judge every detail of their lives. No-one could cope with that level of interrogation without feeling slightly anxious, overwhelmed or under pressure. It’s far too easy to fall into a cycle of tension and depression if your actions are being scrutinised under a microscope by so many people.

Facing “reality” on your own.

Our community knows that a good support system is of the utmost importance for anyone encountering mental health issues and can make the real difference for a recovery path. Therefore, this emphasises the duty of care placed on producers of reality tv shows like Love Island and The Jeremy Kyle Show. And don’t even get me started on the Kardashians and their duty of care for their ever-growing roster of children being forced into the spotlight before they have a clear opinion on the matter. When a contestant is voted off a show, their “failings” are highlighted and thrown in their face time and time again. There are regular examples of substance abuse, depression and suicidal thoughts; but rarely are there publicised commentaries about the way shows help people through their struggles. The reason for this is obvious: the support isn’t there. People’s versions of reality are twisted, their lives laid out for judgement and then they are not properly taught how to process these changes. It’s an unforgivable and – at times – lethal combination.

Reality Role Models

These “stars” are pushed into acting in the most wild and extreme ways in order to achieve higher ratings and viewership numbers for the show as a whole, but do those pulling the strings realise what they’re actually doing? Impressionable children and young people will watch reality tv shows, eating up all the drama and believe that this is the example of success and positive life choices. After all, they’ll see these people on the cover of magazines and earning notable amounts of money. It’s easy to put two and two together and get seven when the media is pushing a carefully constructed message down your throat. But this is not reality. I’ll repeat it for those at the back: This. Is. Not. Reality. It’s an impossible standard to live up to, and so thousands of children are dreaming of a life they cannot obtain. So, it’s not just the contestants who are doomed to exhibit signs of mental illhealth; audiences fall into the trap too. The people on these shows are painted as celebrities and made famous for no achievement of substance, instead due to their body image or immoral lifestyle. What kind of example does that set? Surely, we should be more careful about the people we glorify? After all, there are so many fantastic people out there whose intelligence, compassion or endurance set excellent examples for young people to aspire to embody. How is it that we live in the world where I can name every Kardashian child straight off the bat, but I had to google the name of the woman who worked on getting the first picture of a black hole. This is a sign of a broken society.

I don’t know how we break this wheel of obsession with reality tv, but I know it is time for a real change. Change channel from a society that perpetuates mental health issues, and instead, let’s collectively obsess over tv shows with outstanding writing and complex, honest characters which promotes the good we all have to offer.

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One Stop Social are a community of practitioners who work together to develop the future of social work, and your voice matters to us in this mission. We want to champion the causes that matter to you, celebrate your successes and have a positive impact on your working life however we can.

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