Reality TV must deal with mental health
Sir: Even as excitement lingers on the Sixth Season of Big Brother Naija that ended on Sunday, many are worried that the show’s producers need to take great caution with the mental health of the housemates. This secret task and fake eviction of Nini that led to Saga crying and admitting to having difficulties after the death of his mother is a case in point.
When Kayvee left the house on medical grounds early in the season, it was a lost opportunity to speak directly to the challenges of many of its viewers. Just five days into his stay in early August, Kayvee’s management team described his exit as being motivated by a mental health challenge.
The question everyone asked was why he had not been evaluated before the show? Was the isolation in the house too overwhelming? Was he already living with a mental illness and was this just a relapse? When Saga’s sister complained last week, the public’s view was that he was aware of what he was entering when he signed his Big Brother agreement.
While reality TV is one of the largest sectors in the television industry, its behavioural effects are largely unknown. According to “The Bachelor” producer Mike Fleiss, shows are largely scripted highlighting how the final programme is determined in the editing booth in a way designed to create more drama and subsequently attract more viewers.
Contestants may not know what they are getting into when they sign up to participate in a reality show. If people need to be shut up in a house away from the outside world like in “Big Brother,” competing for the affection of a male suitor in “The Bachelor,” or scrounging for food after plotting against each other on “Survivor,” what about their mental health?
It is important for reality TV shows to have therapists on set with regulatory oversight to ensure this happens to protect the mental health of all those involved on-camera. Following the death of Mike Thalassitis of Love Island in 2017, you would think reality TV shows would put in place strong duty to care measures in managing housemates’ mental health pre, during and postseasons.
Reality television remains one of the most popular and profitable sectors of the television industry with nearly four in 10 people watching some form of it. Clearly, it is here to stay. We must therefore be mindful of its impact. Studies have shown that anxiety and depression centered on body image can occur among viewers and that it can fuel young people’s anxiety about their bodies.
Big Brother Naija, which is a multi-billion naira industry with huge potential, is not only for the housemates but for the sponsors and the entire value chain. All of these stakeholders have a responsibility to promote the normalisation of mental health conversations if we want the programme to continue adding value to audiences.
Dr Maymunah Kadiri.