Reality TV and mental health

There is a piece in the Observer this week about the Jeremy Kyle show. The author says that people with serious mental health problems are prey to the exposure these kinds of shows bring. These shows - where aggressive confrontation and public goading are to used to provoke and taunt people about personal problems or issues – are nasty to watch. On the Jeremy Kyle show there is apparently a “qualified mental health nurse and psychotherapist” who “found no evidence of mental illness” and decided that a “contestant” was “fit to take part”.

Is there really a way to decide if someone is “fit to take part” in such an exercise? Doctors are often asked to fill in certificates claiming that one is “fit to take part” in all sorts of things from skydiving to marathon running. One can say perhaps that there is no obvious reason why one should not do certain things, but there are seldom criteria where it is possible to say that one will be capable of a task. There are a few things where there is clear demarcation of acceptable risk; for example, the criteria for fitness to drive is something the DVLA is very clear about. These kinds of shows, however, are a different thing.

The Channel 4 show Big Brother hires psychologists. These shows look for people who are going to be “good entertainment”. In this context, it usually means that the people are chosen with the belief that they will provide drama. Again, in this context, it usually means conflict with oneself or the group. Presumably the presence of psychologists provide the television company with something to arm themselves with against charges that they place people in potentially damaging situations, played out live and in the public arena. Freedom to do as one wishes is one thing.  But the presence of a psychologist does not guarantee happy endings.

I do know one thing, though. The less television I watch, the happier I am.

Margaret McCartney’s Blog

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A forum on healthcare policy and professional issues, by Glasgow-based GP and FT Weekend columnist Margaret McCartney.