Entertainment and Safety Are Not Mutually Exclusive

The last 12 months has seen the Film & TV industry come under increasing scrutiny over the perceived lack of responsibility exhibited by production companies in considering the psychological welfare of on-screen talent and preparing them for the potentially negative ramifications of a career in the spotlight.

With a number of reality contestants taking their life and many more suggesting they had considered suicide following their stint on TV, the abundance of media coverage on this situation has pointed the finger in various different directions over who is to blame and where the liability lies when such a tragedy occurs.

Historically, cast used in TV shows were all trained actors who had developed a level of resilience towards the industry as a result of the job they are trained to do but in the past 15 years there has been an explosion of reality TV taking over the scene. Reality TV focuses on the real lives of individuals and extrapolates the interesting parts to make entertaining TV. This seems to be work well in some cases but when you look shows such as Jeremy Kyle which has now been axed, it does bring into question how ethical it is to humiliate people on live TV for entertainment purposes. Many of the on-screen guests of The Jeremy Kyle Show have featured because they have some sort of major life problem going on. This in itself suggests that there are some underlying psychological problems which are impacting their ability to have healthy relationships and to function healthily. This level of fragility in someone needs help not humiliation and issues of this nature ideally should be dealt with sensitively in a compassionate environment where they can explore the issues to come to a resolution, not thrown across national TV for the nation to pass judgement.

The show has without a doubt provided entertaining viewing for the past 14 years for many people, but production companies now need to demonstrate a diligent approach to psychological care and seriously consider the psychological impact of participating in these shows for on-screen talent: there is an unquestionable element of accountability that lies with the production company.  That said, I doubt that any pre-production psychological screening processes could possibly be in-depth enough to uncover a predisposition to mental illness. It takes a long time to establish these traits in an individual and psychological assessment conducted for the purposes of fitness to participate in a TV show are not going to reveal potential psychological problems easily, there will always be some people who are missed by these processes.

I don’t believe we can place all blame on the industry for the recent suicides of TV contestants. For someone to take drastic measures such as taking their own life, there has to be a whole combination of factors interacting which culminate in such a tragic ending. It’s likely that there were life events outside of the TV show which are partly accountable but it’s also not unrealistic to postulate that certain individuals who are drawn towards fame, may have a predisposition to a mental health condition or a psychological fragility which becomes evident once exposed to the environmental stressors of being on national TV.

Undoubtedly, there are steps that productions companies can take to ensure that they are doing their best to prepare on-screen talent for the life changing situation which awaits them. Providing psychological support in the pre-production, production and post-production stages is absolutely vital. Additionally, education around the impact that being in the public eye will have on the individual is also important. Specifically, education and exercises in dealing with social media and trolling will provide a taster of what they may have to cope with.

Choosing a career in the spotlight will always bring with it a number of complications which people can’t predict until they experience it. Production companies who are more than aware of the potential pitfalls and are using talent for entertainment purposes and commercial venture, must seek adequate professional support to enable them to demonstrate a duty of care towards ensuring the wellbeing of those involved. 

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