It’s that time of year again. My news apps, my social media, my day-to-day conversations all become saturated with Love Island based content. “Have you been watching the new series of Love Island?”. No, and I’ll tell you why.
I will hold my hands up and admit that I have never seen an episode of this show and while it looks terrible, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and say that there must be something about it that people find interesting. I would never shame someone for watching it and enjoying it, and I promise that that is not what this article is about. If you like Love Island and similar shows, that’s fine, enjoy.
The main problem I have with the existence of this show is, in fact, probably not a problem at all, rather it is something that stirs and inspires me to continue to shout about mental health until my throat is sore. For me, Love Island holds a mirror up to the hypocrisy that is the UK media and the UK public.
In one breath we are posting mental health memes and sickly-sweet motivational quotes that fall just the wrong side of the toxic positivity border, tagging #mentalhealth and #wellness. In the other, we are apparently falling over ourselves with excitement at the return of a show that has failed repeatedly to protect the mental wellbeing of its contestants and even its former presenter.
Two previous contestants have taken their own lives since partaking in the show, add to that the death of Caroline Flack and that’s three people, three families who have had their worlds turned upside down by a show that is still shamefully popular. I am sure there are people reading this whose initial reaction is to say, ‘well who’s to say that they wouldn’t have taken their lives anyway’.
I do understand that train of thought, but I think that it is categorically the wrong question to ask. For one, it cannot be proven, either way, we will never know whether Love Island was a direct cause of these deaths, or whether it was simply a large component of a bigger struggle. What we can say, almost certainly, is that Love Island and ITV’s complete lack of consideration or care for past contestants is not entirely unrelated or innocent.
The real kicker with all of this is the channel it is broadcast on. ITV and ITV2, both of which ran the entirely hollow and meaningless mental health campaign earlier in the year while simultaneously allowing the public and unrestrained bullying of a pregnant and previously suicidal woman.
It is mind-boggling to try to fathom how people are coping with the cognitive dissonance that must arise when watching a show that ravages people’s self-esteem, preys on people’s cripplingly low self-worth, builds up their audience and prospects, then throws them to the wolves and watches as they get ripped apart, while at the same time writing ‘my inbox is always open’ in their social media bios.
The unstoppable train that is Love Island worries me most because, to me, it means one of two things. Either the progress we have apparently made as a society in reducing the stigma around mental health and improving attitudes is all fake and is nothing more than a trend for people to get more likes and clout on the internet and no one really wants to fight for genuine change.
Or protecting people’s mental health, preserving someone’s life, is simply not as important to people as some low-rate evening entertainment. Both options are so incredibly deflating and defeating and make me genuinely concerned for the day that something else becomes the flavour of the moment and a few of us will be left weakly chanting for mental health surrounded by the discarded memes, hashtags and aggressive, camera smacking reels telling us to ‘never apologise for your feelings’ like trauma doesn’t exist.
When you sit down and watch Love Island tonight, just remember the time, just over a year ago, when you were all posting #BeKind and writing Caroline’s quote: In a world where you can be anything, be kind. Please don’t lose that energy. Please don’t forget that the people you are watching are real people, with real families, and very real struggles.