The facts as reported are that a 63 year old man from Portsmouth, Steve Dymond, committed suicide a week after an episode of the Jeremy Kyle show was recorded. On the show he was under pressure to “prove” to his fiancée he had not “cheated” on her. Allegedly he failed a “lie detector test” and was somewhat distraught after Jeremy Kyle was reported to have “laid into him”.
This is reality TV at its worst . Today the media report that the Salford production crew were in tears as it was announced the ending permanently of the show, for which Kyle is reported to be paid £2 million each year. I frankly do not care. Yet another reality show, yet more deaths.
The producers are reported to give support to “participants” in the form of mental health nurses ( unclear whether they are on set or interact after the show) and a psychoanalyst. again my opinion is that this is likely to be woefully inadequate.
I am going to give you my own personal views on the assumption that the above facts as they are reported are approximating to the truth.
Reality TV is cruel but cheap, hence the plethora of programmes produced for which contestants almost fight to get onto the shows as it offers an average person almost instantaneous celebrity status. The successful ones with a modicum of an interesting personality are then able to make serious money by interviews, articles, hosting radio or TV shows and celebrity advertising endorsements.
In these programmes people are judged by the general population on their looks, personality and how they often interact with partners. To that extent on the face of it ,it might be seen as harmless fun, with potential great rewards for the lucky ones. My own view is rather different. What is generally lacking is any kind of genuine empathy towards participants. Frankly no one truly cares about them other than in high profile cases. One could argue thats the price the contestants pay for aiming for celebrity status. The trouble is that in the case of the man , Steve Dymond, who died, there is clear evidence of at a minimum vulnerability ,and potentially a serious depressive illness. It cannot be right that anyone put through an experience such as this commits suicde a week later. Many of these programmes are likely to attract people who do have personality issues or unknown/undiagnosed mental illness. And subsequently they may be desperate, either genuinely or as perceived by them. I am really unsure that without a full psychiatric assessment , and this may involve potentially even 10 hours of assessment and interviews with family members/friends, that realistically those extremely vulnerable can be separated out. When I have watched these programmes it is clear that many have features of impulsivity ( possibly ADHD), emotional volatility ( potentially facets of borderline personality disorder ) and some clearly lack empathy for others ( personality traits that sit when extreme on the sociopathic spectrum). Depression may co-exist and commonly does with many of these disorders. The simple point I am making is that the participants are often unaware of these aspects or illnesses and the support staff, who may be excellent in fact, would not be able to prophylactically stop people taking part where it may put their mental status at risk. The final point to make is that mental illness or forms of personalty disorders are not static illnesses, they can get better, worse or be cured, sometimes temporarily, however stress of any kind in a person with a vulnerability to a problem , can significantly worsen or induce the problem rapidly.
Some reality TV programmes may be less critical to mental health, maybe we can simply call them kinder or less traumatic. The Kyle show does not fall into this category. To be having a contestant who has to prove his fidelity is bad enough in my view but to try and extract this proof using a “lie-detector” creates huge stress, and the technique is dubious enough as a separate issue.
For Steve Dymond its too late now. He clearly was a man under all sorts of stress, even from what is being reported, including a court arrest warrant for non-payment of a fine, and the outcome might not have been predictable in an individual case, however to stress out any human being (or animal for that matter) will significantly worsen underlying mental health status. Do we really want to be a society that allows our vulnerable members to be ridiculed on TV for so-called entertainment? I don’t think we do, but we do need to understand the effects any mental health disorder might have on an individual in that situation. Programmes like Kyle are neither funny nor clever, neither are in my opinion those who take amusement in the misfortune of others. Mental health needs to be taken seriously and public education needs to start right now. Sadly it is a death such as this that may encourage people to learn more. RIP Steve Dymond