Todays Daily Mail22nd June 2018 reports the untimely death of reality star Sophie Gradon , at the young age of 32. A middle class Love Island star who said ” I sold my soul to reality TV”, but she was not alone. Sophie might well have paid the ultimate price of finding instant fame as a natural beauty, talented in so many ways, bright and wanting to enjoy all that is good in life.
SUICIDE AND REALITY TV STARS
I often read suicidal letters imbued with the darkness that only a life of persistent anxiety and chronic depression can bring, with no hope, no joy and utter loneliness . None of my clients feel they can ever get out of this living hell, a life of mental imprisonment. I sit in my clinic astonished at their beauty, their aspirations, from usually well functioning families and a zealousness to achieve all that life has in store for them. Deep down in their minds is a very private dark world, that none has ever entered only known to themselves. Ironically they put on that exterior glow of radiance and beauty that I saw many times in Sophies tv appearances. The same I saw in the late Robin Williams and many others, the deceptive glow that tells the world that all is well with my soul. How far can it be from the reality of reality tv?
INTERNET TROLLS AND SUICIDE
The tabloid reports that Sophie revealed that since appearing on reality ITV dating show, she was the victim of bullying online. Internet trolls can in fact be anyone, mostly either immature teenagers or adults who get high emotional payoffs by attacking people like Sophie, seeing them as natural beauties intelligent and seeking fame on telly, but anonymity is the keynote characteristic of a troll, covert to the extreme but viscious in their underlying pathological traits to destroy the victim. Sadly, Sophie Gradon had to live with this persistent bullying online which ultimately succeeded in demolishing her emotional functioning, making her feel unloved unwanted despicable and much more. This is the key factor in the online bully, whose motives are triggered by three core personality ingredients: narcissism, impulsivity, sociopathic tendencies with devoid of empathy.
Sophie had suffered immensely at the and of the trolls, and had told Radio Aire “ There would be so many negative comments” This was three months after her reaction from being on Love Island.
As a psychologist and ex academic who has researched suicidal depression and completed suicides for many years, celebrity suicides and reality tv star suicides are each one very complex and unique. I work professionally with celebrities and reality tv stars in my day job as a telly psychologist, and I also run a mental health charity Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention in NI. I see many individual , especially teenagers and young adults in my clinic who crave fame and present with social media addiction regularly, or those who feel the tenacious urge and compulsion to seek fame by getting onto the audition list for Britain’s Got Talent, X Factor and Big Brother.
Like so many others in the obsessive world of reality tv, Sophie showed her natural talents, she was glamourous, and had a body shape that many envied young and old, she had an incredible social media presence on Instagram and other social media, with the adoration of hundreds of thousands of followers, yet in all amid all of her many achievements, now found dead at her £900,000 home in Ponteland Northumberland on Wednesday evening. Sophie had enjoyed a nice holiday in the South of France with her boyfriend Aaron Armstrong and appeared to be psychologically healthy, full of life and adventuresome, but underneath the veneer, a darkness seemingly prevailed.
Sophie was well educated and had completed her university degree, a massive achievement for young people as I can endorse, having been a university lecturer in psychology before I trained for my current role as a Tv presenter and celebrity Psychologist. She began modelling at the age of sixteen winning the Miss Great Britain contest two years later. Sophie developed a career in part time modelling, marketing and recruitment, but in 2016 was making headlines in the red top tabloids for her sensual appetite as one of the LoveIslanders. But this is what attracts and is the springboard in today’s world for the vulnerable young adults who see telly as the be all and end all of one’s life. Sophie was one of hundreds perhaps thousands of youth obsessed with becoming famous, devoid of the cruel world celebrities and famous reality stars have to face every day of their lives. The lack of privacy, the intrusion into their private lives and the exposure by social media which is not always positive… most fail to encompass the negatives that accompany stardom. After many onscreen “romances “ with Love Islanders Tom Powell and wat seemed like a bliaison with Katie Salmon, Sophie said that the reality show had left her” the most stressed , anxious F****d up she had ever felt”. I hear the same ad verbatim remarks for many reality Tv stars. The total emptiness, the threats to their personally self worth and identities, leaves them highly psychologically vulnerable.
Sophie said that subsequently, she had sold her soul and that her mental health had suffered. None I see in my telly job as a reality tv and celebrity psychologist, are aware of the psychological costs to their mental health functioning. More so, the welfare of contestants pre- production and post production leaves much to be desired. It is highly inadequate and tv reality producers and execs must take social responsibility for the implications of young wannabees exposure to the profound catastrophic consequences of appearing on a reality tv show lie Love Island.
Last year she had remarked online that she was “ just battling a little bit of depression” Did anyone pick up on this and assisted Sophie to seek professional help for her GP and emotional support form a Suicide Prevention Agency like my own? Had this been so, we would still have Sophie alive today. She added later “ Feel so guilty when my anxiety takes over, for not wanting to see or speak to anyone. Some days I get so overwhelmed I just want to nap”.
In April she had said life had improved, writing” Thinking back to when I became a total recluse, afraid to go out anywhere because of crippling anxiety and how different my life is now”. Facing up to your fears is sometimes the hardest but most rewarding thing.
One positive fact that comes out of all of what Sophie has said, is that all those searching for fame or those who might not be, but who suffer depression and anxiety, facing the challenges with those trained to help you, will remove the fears and give you total psychological fulfilment and happiness.
Many individuals blame reality tv shows such as LoveIsland for its psychologically destructive aims and objectives, its overemphasis on sexual freedom in adolescents and young adults and lack of morals while over three million follow it religiously. Its enigmatic and coy presence acts indirectly seducing the nations youngster’s vulnerability into slaves of obsession and social media addiction. One former Big Brother contestant Sally Axi 29 years old, claimed that these shows take advantage of young stars and abandon them once the show is over”. As a reality tv and celebrity psychologists who was also one of Celebrity Big Brothers psychologists at one stage in my career can testify to that. We have moved the reality genre away from a purely wholesome family show based on a social psychological experiment into nothing more than debauchery and a nation of obsessive voyeurists.
The ITV2 spokesperson said that ” The whole ITV2 and Love Island team are profoundly saddened to hear the news about Sophie …. and deepest sympathy to her family and friends”, Fair enough, mere words I hear people say today.. but what are they doing to protect and support ex contestants? This opens up a can of worms about media ethics and law issues unheard of before. At which point do reality TV executives stop taking social and ethical and legal responsibility for the mental health of reality contestants? Contracts need to be toughened up to give at least a five year guarantee of mental health support such as we have in a warranty we purchase or get free when we buy consumer items. My goodness they really do need it! Ex reality stars like dear Sophie need not have to be placed into the hands of internet trolls and their venomous motives to kill and destroy. I become angry when I hear of another ex reality show suicide in a young contestant or ex contestant.
On a similar note I read with horror the even more horrendous slippery slope to sexual immorality and vile behaviour on board a cruise ship for a Channel 4 documentary. Do we have an era of brainless young tv producers whose only aim is to facilitate an orgy among thousands of precocious young people for the sexual gratification of the nation’s viewers and voyeurists, and raise viewers ratings in order to meet targets irrespective of how they do it.
When I saw the recent advert BRAND NEW REALITY TV SERIES SHIPMATES APPLY NOW it looked like an innovative reality social experiment. Nothing could be further from the truth.The story was covered by Daily mail and other tabloids and in a broadsheet. The cruise descended into a drugs and vodka fuelled orgy on one of the Royal Caribbean luxury liners Vison of the Seas. I’m convinced that few of the “contestants” had a vision of the sea nor were too concerned about the seascape as they voyaged around the Mediterranean. A passenger claimed that drug dealers were offering a £260.00 “meal deal”during the week long voyage. A film crew were aboard the ship to film the madness and debauchery for a C4 Documentary series on reality tv. The newspaper were in touch with the Tv production company who made the film, Full Fact TV but who said the film crew witnessed no drugs .
For this trip the liner was chartered by a company called Anchored Cruise, for 2,500 young holidaymakers to “ let their hair down with an itinerary of pool parties and big name DJ’s. The company promised 24 hour bars and cocktail stations with fitness centres an climbing walls. Prices were from £499,00 per person for a room shared with three guests, up to £10.000 for a spot in the Royal Suite.. whatever that is.
Channel 4 commissioned the film crew to follow two teams of friends on the party ship. A promotional press release said that the two groups would join thousands of tanned and toned twenty somethings for a “one in a lifetime party aboard one of Europe’s lavish cruise liners. Becky Cadman Commissioner for C4 factual entertainment said it was “guaranteed to be full of sun sea and sass”. The reality show descended in chaos. One guy claimed “ sometimes you didn’t know if you were on a cruise ship or in the middle of a drug fuelled orgy”. Another said it was “carnage on a new level of wrongness, and there was group sex all over the lawless ship.” He said “ drink and drugs were so ripe I’m surprised no one has died.” Drinks packages according to press reports, were £5,000 for for two magnums of vodka, ten bottles of Cristal Champagne, and two bottles of spirits. Are these “floating festivals” a new Tv genre for factual entertainment? Shall we permit this to be allowed to socially influence our youth as tomorrows citizens where moral carelessness might lead to depression anxiety delusions and ultimate death by suicide.#
Time to reach out to all young people involved as participants in reality television shows. Let us implore government to have tougher measures set in place through Ofcom to ensure the safety of reality show contestant’s before during and after the series end. On whose shoulders does the untimely death of our beautiful young people lie?
Arthur Cassidy Ph.D