Happiful is the UK's only monthly lifestyle magazine devoted to mental health. Happiful is a mental health and wellbeing magazine on a mission to create a healthier and happier society through inspiring life stories and positive news.
Anorexia, low self-esteem, and a need for approval and acceptance, led Laura into a series of dismal, meaningless encounters. Now, on the road back to health and with a loving partner by her side, she is discovering that taking your time can be truly liberating
Sex, nudity, orgasms... these were all off limits for me for years. I’m not entirely sure why, because I didn’t grow up with messages that sex was a bad thing. I remember my sister and mum feeling comfortable walking around naked, whereas I would do everything possible to keep myself covered – even when I got out of the shower. From a very young age, I was embarrassed about being stripped of my clothes.
My eating disorder began in my late teens; a crucial time when you are meant to be exploring your sexual self. Not for me. My anorexia crushed any desire to find out what made me ‘tick.’ I lost my virginity at 16 in the most embarrassing of ways; in a friend’s garden with a guy I had barely spoken to. I’m not proud of this, but it set a precedent for what was to follow.
I’m not entirely sure of the number of people I have slept with, partly because I just haven’t given it much thought before now. I’m 36 and have only ever had two meaningful relationships; the first with a guy at university, and the other with my current boyfriend. The rest were brief encounters. I’m not necessarily talking about one-night stands, but guys I met in transient stages of life.
Each experience shared a common theme: inequality. I was mostly the subservient player, often both sexually and emotionally. I put their worth and value above my own. Their needs and satisfaction was more important than my own. This had consistently been my experience of men, until I met my current partner.
Recovery from my eating disorder was, by no means, a straightforward path. I spent many years in and out of relapse – and in and out of treatment centres – all to no avail. But I was incredibly fortunate to be able to spend seven months at an inpatient centre in California, USA, where I truly learned to heal from the inside out.
It was by far the hardest thing I have ever done, but also by far the best thing. The staff’s loving commitment to my recovery, enabled me to nurse my mind, body and spirit, and gave me the tools to cope in life without using my eating disorder.
Now that I am in this more positive place, I can reflect and I’m not entirely surprised that my behaviour with the opposite sex took this path. Alongside the meaningless liaisons, I also experienced a pretty hideous sexual attack in a foreign country to add to my fear and mistrust of men and their intentions.
I had an innate feeling of being ‘less than’. I craved approval and acceptance from others, and without knowing (as I do now) how to get my needs met, I demonstrated this by being a people-pleaser. I was the giver and never the receiver when it came to pleasure between the sheets, and I thought this was normal. It’s the guy that needs to be satisfied, right? As long they have had a good time, then I’ve done my job properly.
Perhaps this was why I never really enjoyed sex; it wasn’t something I cared much for and was always a physical act, with little sense of closeness. I am in no doubt that my low weight switched off my hormones, resulting in zero sexual desire. Eating fat is necessary for the production of oestrogen – a vital sex hormone in women – and without it, sex was easy to forgo.
My sexual relationship with myself – and others – has changed massively in the past few years, for which I owe a great deal to my recovery and my current boyfriend.
If you learn to be at peace with yourself first, then everything else will feel less of a struggle
I learnt that my readiness to be so dismissive of relationships was down to a fear of being rejected at an emotional level. I attracted men who only were only after one thing, and that suited my eating disorder. If I didn’t let them into my emotional self, then they couldn’t hurt, dismiss, or leave me. I wasn’t hugely keen on being seen naked, but my avoidance went much deeper than my physical self; I didn’t want to be ‘seen’ at all. I have never ‘needed’ a partner and have always enjoyed my own space. But since meeting with my current boyfriend I have realised the absolute joy of being part of a team.
It may have taken me until my 30s, but I’m grateful to have found someone who doesn’t judge me, who excites and motivates me, shows me love and support, and never leaves me wondering or questioning my belonging. He has shown me what it feels like to enjoy sex on equal ground, to feel close to someone, and to appreciate sex with myself without shame. The latter has been a work in progress. I felt embarrassed and disgusted at the thought of masturbating. I now realise that it is a really big part of my recovery and self-discovery as a woman; something my eating disorder prevented me from embracing.
When we first began dating I didn’t even know how to answer the question: “What do you like?” I didn’t know, because no one had ever asked me before. I had to Google what it felt like to have an orgasm because, again, I didn’t know. I wondered if there was something wrong with me, because in the very beginning I couldn’t.
My boyfriend didn’t rush me or place any pressure on me, he was just patient – and then it happened. I have discovered that sex can be simultaneously exhilarating and tender. Finding someone who took the time to meet my needs, and helped me to finally let go, liberated me.
Photography | The Gender Spectrum Collection
Since then I have gradually relinquished the shame around my body and being intimate. The ramifications of my eating disorder no longer haunt me. I still have the occasional hang-up about my body, but for me it was always more than that. I never felt truly present or connected when I had sex. Being intimate with yourself and another, is something that I now recognise as a basic human need, but for the best part of my early years I did it because I was searching for a connection with someone in all the wrong ways. I wanted to be close to someone, but not that close. I wanted to be desired, but I didn’t feel worthy of being cherished.
Sex and love are two very different things, and can exist in isolation. But when they exist in unity, it is the most magical experience imaginable. I can honestly say I never believed anyone would say ‘I love you’ and mean it, and I never thought I would say ‘I love you’ and mean it the way I do now.
Writing this made me cringe at times, but I decided to be brutally honest because it’s a topic that wasn’t really relevant until I entered recovery. Until you find peace within yourself, it is really difficult to be part of a relationship, because you are in constant conflict. Being in a partnership requires you to take risks and be vulnerable; both of which are not easy when you have an eating disorder.
When I began to let go of my eating disorder, I also let go of my shame. I was able to be present with myself and another – it was as if the two journeys were working in parallel.
If you can relate to any of this, then I would encourage you to start exploring your own needs, and don’t rush into finding someone until you have begun your own healing. If you learn to be at peace with yourself first, then everything else will feel less of a struggle. And trust me when I say the wait has been worth it.
Based in Bognor Regis, Radio Respect is run by a team of volunteers who are dedicated to raising awareness of mental health issues, offering support and sharing their own experiences
Radio Respect was launched in 2013 by Caroline and Chris Collins, first broadcasting from the confines of their garden shed. They recognised that while awareness of mental health was growing, there was a void that needed to be filled.
The online radio station is hosted by a team of dedicated volunteers, who offer support for people dealing with mental health issues, as well as wellbeing advice and information about available support and healthcare organisations.
Speaking to the BBC, Radio Respect presenter and hip-hop artist Adam Turner revealed his own struggles and experiences working on the show. “I’m a sufferer of anxiety and depression myself,” he said. “I’ve helped a lot of people out that have been in pretty dark places.”
“It can be anyone. We have people tweeting. We have a phone line there that you can ring and something other than, you know, swallowing tablets everyday to get you through the day.
“If I can deliver something with my music that’s going to touch somebody in here that’s going to make them feel something, then in my mind I’ve made a difference.”
Founder Chris Collins said: “Peoples’ mental health doesn’t stop at a quarter past four. We don’t close, we’re here.
“Everybody here, including myself, suffers with mental health and that puts us in the ideal position to sit down with somebody and say: ‘Look this is hope I cope.’
“When people are first diagnosed with mental health, there’s a long, long process waiting for referrals, and it’s during that time where you are in limbo. Radio Respect is for those people.”
As well as the station, Radio Respect also have a record shop and encourage anyone seeking mental health support or advice to come in for a browse and sit down with a cup of tea and talk to those who know all too well what they are going through.
“Thinking back, I’ve been suffering with depression and anxiety all my life,” says volunteer Rene. “We are a really big family. If somebody needs an ear to listen to, you’ve got it. I try to give the same to people who come in here.”
Earlier this year, Radio Respect formed a partnership with their local job centre to support and prepare those looking for work. Clients can now visit Radio Respect HQ for mental health support and advice, as well as work experience, gaining the skills they need to get back into work and help reduce feelings of isolation.
“It makes me feel super. I almost feel like a superhero. A superhero to the community,” says Adam.
Radio Respect has big plans for the future, including moving to a larger shop space, updating studio equipment and hopefully gaining an FM licence.
Falling into the comparison trap of seeing people in mainstream media, and then feeling disheartened with our own appearance, is something so many of us can relate to. For Kiss radio presenter Tom Green, his view around body image led to the crushing belief that he couldn’t be successful without looking a certain way.
In this personal letter to other men out there, Tom delves into his own negative thought patterns, and shares his advice for owning who you are – in all shapes and forms
Dear ‘Male Class of 2019’,
Before I get stuck in, I should introduce myself. Hi! I’m Tom, a 24-year-old radio and TV presenter. Born and bred in Preston, I went to university in Leeds, spent two years in Manchester, and nine months in Bow, East London. I host the KISS FM breakfast show five days a week – nice to meet you!
I’m here to talk about body positivity. How I learned to not care about what other people thought, and to love my cubby northern self… and yes ladies, I know what you’re thinking, ‘Is he single?’ I actually am. Tweet me.
I’ve not always felt this way. Like a lot of people, my confidence was knocked in secondary school with my introduction to the social pecking order. This was my first time creating a mental list of people who I thought were more important than me, based purely on their looks and athleticism. Attributes I thought meant they would get all the girls, and graduate to a lifetime of success.
Photography | George Baxter
That is when I began to develop the idea, which stuck with me for years: ‘To be attractive, I have to be sporty and thin.’ That was my mantra. That is what I believed. ‘Unless you are sporty and thin, you cannot be hot, and therefore you cannot be successful.’ These ideas were absolutely stupid, and completely unproductive, but it’s what I honestly thought at the time.
I wasn’t good at sports, and never made the football, rugby, or anything, team. I loved sausage sandwiches and butter pies (it’s a Preston thing, give it a Google), so I wasn’t slim. I didn’t live up to my idea of a ‘good looking person’, which in my mind equated to a successful person.
And, as I got older, I saw this ‘good looking person’ everywhere. My generation grew up watching shows like Geordie Shore, Made in Chelsea, Love Island, and Ex On The Beach, where only one type of body is really represented. For men, that body type was tall, and built like you’ve never left the gym, with a six-pack, and 24/7 tan. Or to put it another way, there were not a lot of chubby Northerners in the mix. Seeing these people on TV helped to reinforce those negative ideas I had, and how isolated those of us who didn’t conform to these categories felt.
Then last year something happened, which shows how far I’ve come in accepting my own body. I interviewed singer Liam Payne, and thought it was a brilliant idea to surprise him by hiding under a blanket, and just before the interview started, having it whipped off so he could: “Paint me like one of your French girls.” No matter how confident you are about your body, it was a pretty ballsy move!
The interview was amazing, the reaction online was incredible, and he was actually a natural talent with a painting brush. But how did I go from being incredibly unconfident about my body to being, bar a very small set of speedos, naked in front of a camera?
Silence whatever it is that is holding you back, and start to believe in your own ability
I know this is probably a really overused piece of advice, but it’s completely true. I learnt that, in the vast majority, people only care when you clearly care. When you hold yourself in a way that says, ‘I’m not comfortable’, that energy shows through your body language, and it will then come back to you.
But, let’s be honest here, I know full well that confidence isn’t something you can just magic out of thin air. You can’t wake up one morning and decide that, going forward, you are going to be a confident individual, comfortable in your skin.
However, you can live by my favourite mantra: ‘Fake it ‘til you make it.’ Having confidence is not this intangible quality that is completely unavailable to you. You can chose to silence whatever it is that is holding you back, and start to believe in your own ability.
At the start, you might feel uncomfortable in situations, but decide to act in a way that makes it seem like you’re confident. The thing is, people will buy into that energy, and before long they will become accustomed to you being that guy.
Tom with singer Zara Larsson
In time, the genuine confidence will come. And I believe through that confidence you will become happier with the person you are, learning that it really doesn’t matter your body shape or type, if you own it, people will buy that energy and appreciate you for the person you are – not what you look like.
To conclude, I think it is incredibly important to take the positives you can from your situation. Body image is something that you have the ability to craft yourself; you choose how you see you. There is no better time than now to address insecurities and to realise that these things do not need to hold you back! You can view your differences as positives, and use this to not only affect how you perceive yourself physically, but how you hold yourself around other people. It all starts with acceptance and confidence.
Trust me, I know this won’t be easy, but take small steps with addressing how you view you. It will take time, but that confidence will begin to grow, and it won’t be long until you can love the person you are.
There is no better time to realise the person you are is good enough. But it starts by you believing it, then everyone else will follow. You got it, pal!
Taiwan has become the first country in Asia to legalise gay marriage after a vote on Friday
The vote has come almost two years after the island's Constitutional Court ruled that the existing law - describing marriage as the union between a man and a woman - was unlawful. The panel of judges gave the island's parliament two years to amend or enact new laws - the deadline being 24 May this year.
With only a week left until the deadline, lawmakers debated three different bills to legalise same-sex unions. Two bills, submitted by conservative lawmakers, referred to partnerships as “same-sex family relationships” or “same-sex unions” rather than “marriages”.
But, the government's own bill, the most progressive of the three - the only one to use the word ‘marriage’ and the only one to offer limited adoption rights - was passed by 66 to 27 votes. The vote means that same-sex couples will now have full legal marriage rights, including in areas such as taxes, insurance and child custody.
BREAKING: Taiwan's parliament just voted to legalize same-sex marriage, becoming the first in Asia to do so. pic.twitter.com/nZuPUFl687
The successful bill was backed by LGBTQ groups, despite the fact it could see same-sex couples denied rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples, such as adoption and cross-national marriage.
Taiwan’s LGBT community has been left in a state of limbo over the past two years. Many couples were planning weddings ahead of the 24 May deadline, still unsure of what marriage equality would look like. So, with huge anticipation, hundreds of gay rights supporters gathered in the rain outside the parliament building in the capital, Taipei, to await the landmark ruling.
— 外交部 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC (Taiwan) 🇹🇼 (@MOFA_Taiwan) May 17, 2019
Taiwan's acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships began in the 1990s when leaders in today's ruling Democratic Progressive Party championed the cause to help Taiwan stand out in Asia as an open society.
However, although the island has a large gay community and its annual gay pride parade is the biggest in Asia, Taiwanese society has been hugely divided by the issue of marriage equality. In a controversial referendum in November last year, 67% of voters rejected same-sex marriage.
So today is a historic day - for the people of Taiwan and LGBTQ supporters around the world - coincidentally, falling on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. This move should act as a signal for change for other Asian countries, to ensure equality in law for every citizen.
Happiful’s podcast, I am. I have, held with a special panel of guests is the last episode in the Podfest For Mental Health programme. The week-long release of podcasts was held to mark Mental Health Awareness Week
Happiful and Counselling Directory’s week-long programme of mental health podcasts culminates with I am. I have - The Panel, released today.
This special panel podcast closed the conversation by discussing the changes they want to see in the world and how we can collectively make it easier for others to open up about mental health and get the help they need.
Podfest for Mental Health 2019 - YouTube
You can now listen to all five episodes in the Podfest For Mental Health Programme
Happiful & Counselling Directory’s I am. I have with Deborah James and Lauren Mahon
The Speakers Collective is a social enterprise bringing together speakers on a range of issues including mental health, suicide prevention, sexuality and gender
Launched by founders Natasha Devon MBE and Jonny Benjamin MBE, the enterprise brings together experienced speakers who all have genuine lived experience or expertise in their field. The speakers have been peer observed, are DBS checked, have Mental Health First Aid training and have been working as speakers in schools, colleges or other organisations for a minimum of two years.
“Having travelled throughout the UK and beyond for several years speaking about mental health and related issues, we know it can be an incredibly lonely job. We created the speakers collective to give individuals who work mostly alone in an emotionally draining field a place to exchange tips and ideas, share best practice and support one another,” Natasha and Jonny said in a statement.
“Furthermore, we had been made aware, particularly by schools, of issues concerning quality control. We understand the necessity to discuss sensitive subjects safely, in keeping with the latest reliable research and in a way which is engaging and inspiring. That’s why we also created a quality assurance for our speakers, to give those who book them the assurances they need.”
Speakers Collective member Jo Love, an award-winning mental health advocate who talks about depression, OCD, anxiety, postnatal depression and PTSD, told Happiful that it became increasingly obvious that something needed to be done after seeing a number of speakers who were not safeguarding their audiences or themselves as mental health speakers.
“When you’re talking to people about a sensitive subject like mental health, there needs to be accountability for that and there needs to be some recourse. At the moment, it’s a bit of a ‘Wild West’ and mental health cannot be a Wild West.”
A post shared by Jo Love (@lobellaloves_jo) on May 15, 2019 at 11:29pm PDT
“Talking about mental health, from the perspective of somebody who has lived experienced of mental health, not only helps the person who is speaking but it really has been shown to help audiences connect with the topic of mental health,” says Jo.
“Often, people find talking about their own mental health very awkward and difficult and they don’t know how to start, but it has been shown when people hear real stories… they can connect with it better. It’s good to talk, and as long as we’re talking in a safe way, that can only be a good thing.”
Journalist and author Chris Hemmings speaks in schools, universities and work places to promote a healthier idea of what it means to be a man. Chris told Happiful why he is passionate about men’s mental health and what the collective means to him.
“Ever since I found myself spiralling towards a cocaine and alcohol addiction in the wake of my father’s death, I’ve been researching the myriad of ways some traditional masculine values can cause serious problems for men. Too many of us still try and suppress our emotions and despite the conversations starting, they are by no means happening frequently enough.
“Most of my work in schools and universities focuses on giving young men the tools to redevelop the empathy that’s been socialised out of them. By urging them to create more open, nurturing environments it will allow them and their peers the space for honest, open dialogue. It’s only in those spaces humans feel able to be vulnerable and share with others that they might be struggling with a mental illness.
— Year 9 at Nottingham High School (@Year9_NHS) May 10, 2019
“There are so many young people, adults, families and communities having difficulties, and the Speakers Collective have a lot of bases covered; offering tailored talks and workshops around issues such as mental health, suicide prevention, sexuality and gender. We hope to become an integral part of discussions with young people about issues fundamental to a healthy society.”
Author, speaker and mental health advocate Stuart Baker told Happiful, “I enjoy speaking about my experiences in my public events for two reasons: one being it’s therapy for myself, and two, if it helps one person not be in the position I was two years ago attempting suicide, it’s doing the right thing. Being a part of this collective is amazing. Between all of us we cover a whole genre of subjects grouped together in a professional body.”
Jon Salmon, a member of the collective, lost his father to suicide as a teenager and was later sectioned with stress and depression. For almost 20 years, he told no one. In 2016, after losing a friend to suicide following postnatal depression, he decided to speak out in the most public way - alongside the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the launch of the Heads Together campaign. Jon now speaks openly on how awareness and reducing stigma can save lives.
A post shared by Jon Salmon (@j0nsalmon) on Sep 27, 2018 at 1:57am PDT
“I had kept my mental illness secret for nearly 20 years, and when I shared my story publicly for the first time, it was empowering and slightly overwhelming at the same time. Talking openly about mental health is the fastest way to bring about a change in attitudes. However, being the one delivering the message, I find it can feel quite isolating at times,” Jon told Happiful.
“The Speakers Collective not only provides a charter on how best to share your story within organisations and schools, but most importantly to me is the support network I now have of amazing individuals that make sure we are all supporting each other.”
Mental health campaigner and author Hope Virgo told Happiful, “I am delighted to be part of the speakers collective and part of this exciting new work. I work across the country speaking in schools, hospitals, and corporates to thousands of people each week. This type of work is so important so that we can reach even more people and help break the stigma that comes with mental health.”
The Collective’s current members include: Natasha Devon MBE, Jonny Benjamin MBE, Anglea Samata, Shahroo Izadi, Chris Hemmings, Jo Love, Dave Chawner, Juilette Burton, George Hodgekinson, Rachel Kelly, Hope Virgo, Tom Ryder, Jake Mills, T.J, Sean Fletcher, Ellen Jones, Jon Salmon, Abbie Mitchell, Marsha McAdam, Lotte Stringer, Natalie Pennicotte-Collier, Jacs Guderley, Adrian Garcia-Miller, Rachel Morris MBE, Rich Taylor, Mary Louise Meadows, Satveer Nijjar, Steve Loft and Jo Emmerson.
Read more about Speakers Collective, including their charter, speaking topics and who’s involved here.
Editor of The Book of Man Martin Robinson spoke with Andy Man's Club founder Luke Ambler, mental health advocate Phoebe Torrance and TV explorer Aldo Kane for a special Mental Health Awareness Week podcast episode
An honest and real conversation about mental health, speaking out, self care and responding to suicide, was led by The Book of Man Editor Martin Robinson. He was joined by Andy Man's Club founder Luke Ambler, Papyrus ambassador, model and actress Phoebe Torrance and Aldo Kane, world record setting adventurer, explorer and TV presenter.
Starting with the theme of 'self-destruction to self care', each guest spoke about how and why mental health advocacy became important to them and the mental health tools they use to live their lives and support others.
The final episode in the Podfest For Mental Health programme will be released on Friday 17 May; Happiful Magazine’s I am. I have - The Panel with CEO of Mental Health Foundation Mark Rowland, vlogger Grace Victory, actor and producer April Kelley and journalist Yvette Caster.
All five podcasts in the programme were recorded at Podfest for Mental Health; a day of live recordings in front of an audience at Kings Place in London organised by Happiful Magazine and Counselling Directory.
The Book of Man is a support network offering advice, inspiration, events and brilliant journalism for modern men, at a time of great change.
On Sunday 19 May, coinciding with the end of Mental Health Awareness Week, The Book Of Man will present The Workshop For Better Mental Health. Tickets are available with a 50% discount for Happiful readers, when you use the code, BOMVIP.
Want more? Listen to Martin Robinson's discussion with Happiful on I am. I have earlier this year.
With news that ITV's The Jeremy Kyle Show has been cancelled this week, people are calling for Love Island to also be pulled. But should the shows be treated as one and the same?
Reality television and the supposed impact it has on us as an audience is well documented. We’re becoming a ‘dumbed down’, ‘passive’ audience who aspire to be famous rather than successful. Well, that’s if you believe what a lot of critics have to say. Maybe I’m a bit sensitive to the accusations, but there’s a certain degree of snobbery that is bandied about by people who claim not to watch reality TV.
Over the last year, I’ll admit I’ve become concerned about my own penchant for these easy-viewing shows. The deaths of Love Island stars Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis and the outcry they have caused on social media stopped me in my tracks. In both instances, I felt a pang of guilt - am I part of the problem?
There is a lot of speculation about these types of shows and the impact they can have on the audience’s sense of wellbeing. But, suddenly I’m not so concerned about the impact on us, the viewer. I’m now more preoccupied with the impact of reality TV on the participants themselves. Particularly since the news this week about the death of Steven Dymond, a guest who took part on The Jeremy Kyle Show.
There’s enormous potential for risk with these types of shows - a risk to the participants’ mental and emotional wellbeing. And I can’t help but wonder if enough is being done to watch and look after participants’ welfare?
It’s long days in front of the cameras and fuelled, at times, by lots of alcohol - or, at least, so you would think. Actually, suggestions have been made that producers save alcohol for the nights when they have big things planned - so the contestants feel the impact of it more.
Tyla Carr, who appeared on the 2017 series of Love Island, revealed that she was only allowed one glass of Prosecco a night. Speaking to The Sun, she commented: “You know something’s happening because you’re allowed an extra drink. You know when something’s about to go down.”
The debate on alcohol and its use by TV producers has surfaced again this week, with rumours that The Jeremy Kyle Show has also made use of this questionable tactic.
Someone who worked on the #JeremyKyle show once told me they put guests in a nice hotel with a free bar the night before, encourage them to drink (knowing that as vunerable working class they'll be excited by free booze) because it makes them more fragile for filming. Awful show.
So, whilst on the surface, the two shows may look very different - one is a prime time, reality entertainment programme and the other is a day time pseudo-supportive entertainment programme - there are some distinct similarities. Most significantly, both shows now have had participants take their own lives, but that’s not where the similarities end.
These shows have a tendency to be a bit of a revolving door format - you’re in one week (or day), out the next. This disposable element could leave contestants feeling discarded. Counsellor Philip Karahassan says, “Throughout society, there is a felt ambition to be famous, and appearing on a TV show can help somewhat to get there. However, once they are out of the spotlight what are these people left with? It seems that the contestants are left abandoned after the show.”
Abandoned and left to process the emotional turmoil that they have endured through gaining five minutes of fame? Five minutes that haven’t best reflected the true nature of the participant.
Yes, whether it’s as the result of footage being shortened to fit with running time, being cut together to manipulate character development, asked probing or aggravating questions, or being plied with alcohol, viewers are not seeing the full picture.
Dr Sarah Jane Khalid tells Happiful: “When certain story lines are shaped and scenes edited, the TV producers have a level of power in showing certain sides to individuals which isn’t always positive. This can have a devastating effect on how they view themselves and how they are seen by the public. Case in point of Zara Holland in 2016 being stripped of her Miss GB title.”
Character defects can be exaggerated and TV villains can be constructed. You might think you appear one way, only to see yourself portrayed in a completely different light when the show airs. It’s why so many reality TV participants can suffer a type of post-traumatic stress syndrome after leaving the show.
It’s easy to see how a person could lose their sense of self - not only during but, perhaps more significantly, after the show airs. People are left having to face a society that thinks they know them because they watched a version of them on TV. Philip comments, “When the credits roll, the spotlight remains on them with an expectation to be the caricature of themselves that everyone has gotten so used to watching.
“This can leave these people’s identity left in tatters not knowing what to say, how to look and who to be. With no support, it is not surprising that they are left feeling stressed, anxious and abandoned.”
So, what support is available during and after these shows?
ITV has previously assured the public that there is something in place to help their Love Island contestants when it all becomes ‘too much’. Producers employ a professional psychologist to stay in the grounds of the villa so there is always someone for the contestants to talk to when the pressures of the show start taking their toll.
In terms of support offered to participants of The Jeremy Kyle Show, ITV released a statement: “The programme has significant and detailed duty of care processes in place for contributors pre, during and post-show which have been built up over 14 years. There have been numerous positive outcomes from this, including people who have resolved complex and long-standing personal problems.”
But, mental health professionals have called for change in light of recent deaths. Sarah Jane warns: “I think that TV producers need to take cautionary steps when selecting participants and after exiting the show. The age group that take part are often young adults who are still in the process of understanding themselves and forming beliefs about themselves as well as how they perceive the world around them.
“I’m pleased that they are bringing in an expert to review protocols but an assessment of the participants’ mental health should be carried out prior, after and then in regular follow-ups with access to psychological support. It’s all very well having onsite support but there needs to be greater support after the show as they learn of the storylines and public’s perception.”
Philip adds, “More needs to be done to safeguard contestants on reality TV so that they have the support to reintegrate themselves into real society with their newfound fame.”
Love Island has announced proactive changes to its processes in recent months. In a statement released to Digital Spy, ITV says it recognises its aftercare should be an “evolving process” and has now hired a physician to review its protocol. As a result, contestants will now receive financial and social media training as well as mental health counselling when leaving the villa.
Is this enough?
Fans of The Jeremy Kyle Show and critics of reality shows alike have hit out at ITV, accusing them of hypocrisy for axing one show and not the other.
Jeremy Kyle Show: 1 suspected suicide in 3320 episodes - ITV cancel it indefinitely.
Love Island: 2 suspected suicides in 148 episodes - not cancelled by ITV.
However, fans of Love Island have jumped to the show’s defence.
“WHy CaNcEl JeReMy KylE aNd NoT lOvE IsLaND?” Maybe because the Jeremy Kyle show is fundamentally flawed because its entire premise is to laugh at vulnerable and unfortunate people as if their lives are freak shows? Just a thought
And it’s not only fans of Love Island that agree pulling the Jeremy Kyle Show was the right decision. Others have taken to Twitter to have their say, including activist Gina Martin and political commentator Owen Jones.
Jeremy Kyle consisted of putting vulnerable people from disadvantaged backgrounds in stocks to have eggs thrown at them; it fuelled an agenda of demonising poorer people which helped legitimise cuts to the welfare state. Good riddance.
With the next series of Love Island due to kick off on 3rd June, this is controversial timing for ITV. We will wait with the rest of the nation to see how Love Island producers respond to this social media outcry and whether they will pay tribute to Mike Thalassitis when (or if) the next series airs.
Read the full story: Jeremy Kyle Cancelled As Mental Health Impact, Duty of Care and Ethics Questioned.
If you do experience distressing feelings/thoughts whilst watching or after watching these shows, contact the Samaritans for immediate support. Available 24/7 and free to call any time from any phone in the UK or ROI on 116 123; or email email@example.com.
Following the death of a guest on the Jeremy Kyle Show, ITV have announced that the popular daytime programme will no longer be produced. However, questions remain about the mental health impact of the format and the show’s duty of care with regards to its participants
Steve Dymond, a guest on The Jeremy Kyle Show, died last Thursday, a week after filming for the channel. After temporarily suspending the programme, ITV have today made the decision to end production which has been on our screens since 2005 and brings in 22% of the audience share for the daytime schedule, equating to roughly a million viewers per episode.
In a statement about the cancellation, Carolyn McCall, ITV’s CEO, announced today: “Given the gravity of recent events we have decided to end production of The Jeremy Kyle Show.
“The Jeremy Kyle Show has had a loyal audience and has been made by a dedicated production team for 14 years, but now is the right time for the show to end.
“Everyone at ITV's thoughts and sympathies are with the family and friends of Steve Dymond.”
Over the past decade, there have been many concerns about the portrayal of its guests and the subsequent mental health impact upon the show’s participants. There have been repeated concerns about the format of berating, belittling and humiliating guests.
Carole Cadwalladr questioned the ethics of The Jeremy Kyle Show in 2008, writing specifically about the techniques of presenting the show for The Guardian: “Kyle's masterstroke is that he's not simply a presenter, or in Springer's case, a ringmaster: he takes sides. He decides who is right and who is wrong. And then he gives his guests the wisdom of his opinions. Whether they want it or not.”
“It is the blinding clarity of Kyle's moral universe that is so attractive. He separates right from wrong and comes down squarely on the side of right. Messy, complex issues are reduced to a soundbite that scrolls across the bottom of the screen: 'My husband slept with my daughter! Lie detector results' for example.”
“The show is built around creating a spectacle out of the damaged fragments of people's lives. Every morning there's a fresh dose of broken, awful, ugly, desperate lives served up for our, the viewing public's, delectation.”
I went undercover on Jeremy Kyle Show in 2008 & found a vulnerable mentally ill young man being bullied & abused. Now someone’s dead. Amazed it took this long https://t.co/aKS4o2ndyR
In 2013, Libcom.org published an open letter to Graham Stanier - the Director of Aftercare on the Jeremy Kyle Show, drawing attention to BACP Standards of Conduct, Performance, and Ethics, asking; “...interested to know how you think your role on the Jeremy Kyle fits within the codes of practice that presumably to claim to work within. As a qualified and experienced healthcare professional surely your first thoughts should be the welfare of the people you work with?”
“The same core themes are apparent day in day out. It appears that the central idea of the programme is the ridicule and vilification of working class people... Particular venom is saved for women who may have had the audacity to have more than one sexual partner during their lifetime, and for people who have claimed benefits. Is it any wonder that prejudice towards people who have fallen on hard times, lost their jobs, or have a disability is on the rise when people like Jeremy Kyle continues to espouse his hatred towards them?”
The Jeremy Kyle Show suspended indefinitely after death of guest | ITV News - YouTube
Yesterday, ITV issued a statement specifically addressing concerns about duty of care and mental health, explaining: “ITV has many years experience of broadcasting and creating programmes featuring members of the public and each of our productions has duty of care measures in place for contributors. These will be dependent on the type of show and will be proportionate for the level of activity of each contributor and upon the individual. All of our processes are regularly reviewed to ensure that they are fit for purpose in an ever-changing landscape.
“In the case of The Jeremy Kyle Show, the programme has significant and detailed duty of care processes in place for contributors pre, during and post show which have been built up over 14 years, and there have been numerous positive outcomes from this, including people who have resolved complex and long-standing personal problems.
“Prior to the show a comprehensive assessment is carried out by the guest welfare team on all potential contributors. The guest welfare team consists of four members of staff, one consultant psychotherapist and three mental health nurses.
“The guests are interviewed by guest welfare face-to-face at studios and prior to filming. Throughout filming the participants are supported by the guest welfare team in the studios during the recording phase of their show. After filming has ended all guests are seen by a member of the guest welfare team to ensure they are feeling calm and emotionally settled before any participant leaves to travel home.
“An evaluation of their needs is also carried out at this time and should they require any ongoing service regarding the problem they discussed on the show then appropriate solutions are found for them. This could include residential rehabilitation, counselling, anger management, family mediation, child access mediation or couple counselling for example.
“The day after recording of the show the participant will be contacted by production to carry out a welfare check and provide details of the services that have been sourced for them. The production team keep in touch with the participants in the days between recording and transmission and participants are given a production mobile contact number should they need to contact the show at any point following transmission.”
Mental Health Expert Comments
Counselling Directory member and relationship expert Pam Custers, said: “In my opinion, the Jeremy Kyle show entices people onto the programme in the hope that they will get access to support, counselling or rehab.
“However, the passage they have to go through is a very difficult one. They are lambasted before they are given the support they need. Its a very high price to pay for help - national public humiliation.”
While Counselling Directory member, Psychologist Phillip Karahassan said: “In one respect, we understand that this is television and therefore entertainment. Jeremy Kyle has allowed some issues around mental health to be surfaced on popular TV and has prompted conversations that may not ordinarily have happened.
“I understand that The Jeremy Kyle Show has a professional mental health team, led by the Graham Stanier, dedicated to aftercare and therefore mental health and duty of care will be a major consideration within the production. However, there is a contradiction between this and format of shouting, blaming and shaming that we see - which makes up the entertainment element of the show, and this is the part that draws in many viewers.”
There are wider questions being asked about popular programmes such as Jeremy Kyle and Love Island, in regards to the impact of sudden massive exposure of individuals to public opinion, and whether enough is being done to support those who choose to take place, including Steve Dymond and Love Island’s Mike Thalassitis, who died after completing suicide earlier this year.
Further comments will be added to this article as they are received
Nadiya Hussain is on a mission to tackle the taboos around mental health, starting with her own. In her new BBC documentary, she explores the condition that has plagued her since she was seven years old, and her ambitions to ensure no child suffers in silence in the future
Nadiya Hussain became a firm household favourite in 2015, when she first appeared on our screens as a contestant on the much-loved The Great British Bake Off. Her baking brilliance, megawatt smile, and rapport with contestants and judges alike, meant that when she won first place, the nation wanted more. Books, columns and TV programmes soon followed.
Nadiya’s widespread appeal is in part due to her resolute centering of her own family life in all that she does. A glimpse at her website reveals her life before GBBO; from growing up in a busy household in Luton with her five siblings, to her marriage to Abdal, the birth of their beautiful children Musa, Dawud and Maryam, and the moment her husband encouraged her to enter the baking competition. Abdal, she says, was confident in her ability, and wanted to see her fly despite her own misgivings.
The rest, we know…
Images | BBC / RAW / Phil Sharp
Or do we? Because, actually, that’s not the whole picture. Nadiya’s story to date, also includes the presence of ‘a monster’; her name for the crippling anxiety she has lived with since childhood. She has panic disorder – a condition that can be debilitating, exhausting and isolating.
For those who have followed Nadiya’s progress from contestant to chef, author and presenter, panic disorder might not be a something you’d associate with her warm, friendly and seemingly outgoing persona. The fact is any of us could be living with mental illness and challenges, regardless of how we, and our lives, appear from the outside.
Now, Nadiya wants to open up a conversation around her own mental health, along with how we collectively view mental illness. In spite of the anxiety and panic disorder that could hold her back, she is forging ahead. An hour-long special, Nadiya: Anxiety and Me, developed with the BBC, will be released in May to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, and it’s a must-watch.
The programme has been a long time coming for Nadiya: “I’ve had the idea for the past two years. I really wanted to make this documentary, but one of the hardest things to do when you have a mental health issue, like panic disorder, is to talk. It’s tough to say: ‘I’m not well.’
“From the very beginning, aged seven, there have been so many opportunities for me to say it and I haven’t. So I do know how hard it is. It can take decades to speak out and admit there’s a problem.”
Nadiya says the attention she receives, both positive and negative, made her wary of speaking out initially, but she got to a point last year where she simply felt she had to talk “right now”, and reached out about making the documentary. But, the end result was still “by far, one of the hardest things [she’s] ever had to do”.
It’s understandable why the project was so difficult. The nature of panic disorder and anxiety can mean that conversations regarding the thoughts and sensations you experience during an episode, can trigger you. In this film, Nadiya shares not only the fact that she has the disorder, but how and when it started, along with the impact it has on her daily life, relationships, and career.
One of the hardest things to do when you have a mental health issue, like panic disorder, is to talk
But alongside the difficult aspects, the process came with some truly positive moments for her. One being when looking online at the list of symptoms for panic disorder with Abdal. “For me, the realisation was at that point – it’s an illness! Even though a doctor tells you, ‘You have a panic disorder,’ somehow, it does not seem real because it has become the person you are. That was always ‘just my personality’. It was a real lightbulb moment to understand what I experience is an illness.”
To address her panic disorder, Nadiya agreed to see a therapist, and for her sessions to be filmed. This was the first time that she’s had therapy as an adult, having previously had just one cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) session on the NHS when she was 18. She notes: “That was all that was allotted at the time, and at that age, I couldn’t afford more.”
The therapy she received on the programme helped Nadiya to explore the origins of her panic disorder, and to question her coping methods and routines. This could, understandably, feel quite overwhelming.
To read more of Nadiya's exclusive chat with us, pick up the June issue of Happiful in supermarkets from Thursday 16 May.
'Nadiya: Anxiety and Me' will air on BBC One at 9pm on Wednesday 15 May, as part of a series of programmes around Mental Heath.