Reality TV Exploiting Mental Illness

Sunday the 18th marked the finale of the 23rd season of Survivor: South Pacific.

Survivor is the only reality show I have ever professed any sort of loyalty to, and in the 10+ years it has run I have often considered the possibility of being on the show.

The second chunk of those seasons seem to have something in common that I have noticed in particular, there is always at least one castaway who suffers some kind of major mental breakdown on the show.

Now, I will admit, I am pretty familiar with the application process for this show so it always seemed a little odd to me that people so mentally unstable continue to pass the “psychiatric interview” portion of the application process and make it on to the show for each season.

After stumbling on this article yesterday:

Daniel Bader, PhD, Looks at How Mental Illness is Portrayed on Reality Television on ‘Bipolar Today’

With the original blog post here:

Avoiding Freak Shows: Reality Television and Mental Illness

I’m not entirely convinced it is by accident!

Is reality television exploiting people with mental illness?

The answer seems to be a very resounding yes.

Obviously I can’t say for sure if the Survivor casting folks add at least one castaway who is on the mentally unstable side each season for entertainment purposes, but it does seem pretty clear that mental breakdowns are an integral part of each season.

In every day life stress is a huge trigger for most mental breakdown situations, so you can imagine how being on national television (as well as being starved and cut off from the rest of the world) would provide that spark of stress ten fold. After 23 seasons I would find it very hard to believe that this casting situation keeps occurring by “accident”, and when those breakdowns are filmed and then aired to boost ratings, well I would call that exploitation.

This happens on tons of reality shows all across the country, American Idol has been pretty notorious for airing particularly bad auditions, even after instances of mental illness have been made very clear in several of the contestants.

Unfortunately, I don’t imagine anything changing any time soon. Usually emotional outbursts and breakdowns are trademarks of reality TV and are favored on shows to get higher ratings. The longer people continue to watch, the longer this will continue happening.

The more time passes the more I realize there is no way I could be on Survivor. I have bipolar disorder, I would undoubtedly go on some kind of half-starved unhinged rampage (possibly like the lady who stole that guy’s shoes and buried them a few seasons ago) after experiencing several cold, sleepless nights on the beach. However, when I was just an average joe I felt like the possibilities of being cast were pretty low. With mental illness on my side, if I tried now I might just get the part!

2 responses to “Reality TV Exploiting Mental Illness

  1. Very interesting research…

  2. That was no coincidence. It was a rip off. It has the same graphic, for Pete’s sake! How much more obvious can that get.

    I will say this a dozen times – Somatopsychic. People’s bodies become under such stress that they begin to exhibit mental health disturbances. I’m not surprised in the case of Survivor. You said it yourself; you couldn’t do it.

    But. I’ve been giving it some thought lately, as 2012 approaches. Would I be able to surive the downfall of society or any kind of apocolypse. I’d like to think, yes, I would. Once I’m over detoxing from the meds, I think BP could give me a competitive edge. Reduced sleep sparks hypomania / mania. Those symptoms are wired for survivalism, having the ability to quickly resolve moral dilemmas for self-preservation. Non-Dx people can’t go very long without sleep. I haven’t tried it, but I believe that I likely could.

    Anyway, back to the topic at hand. I despise that clear exploitation. Especially when the media hungerly depicts by showing the ugliest side. We’ve seen enough of that business. Why don’t we show the people who are flourishing in recovery? Boring, I guess.

    However, it is not always clear as to what is erratic behavior versus what is eccentric behavior. There are a lot of short-tempered people out there that are perfectly sound of mind. I think there are probably a lot of cases where a person is unaware and it takes that spark of celebrity pressure to bring it out. In the Teen Mom situation, she is prime age for the onset of mental illness. Being a teenage mother is difficult enough without a camera crew shoved up your rear. But – she chose to do the show.

    That’s the point. People with mental health concerns choose to do it. No, I don’t think we should be ushering these people in. That would be like ushering an alcoholic to the bar by saying the drinks are free. It is morally bankrupt to do such a thing. But, at the same time, you can stop an alcoholic from going to the bar, if you catch my drift.

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