I first discovered the reality dating show Love Island back in 2016, when it returned for its second series.
At first, I didn’t expect a great amount of entertainment, but what I found is that among the frivolity and fake tans, there’s a wonderful exploration of human relationships. Each night at 9pm, you can lose yourself in the dating lives of others.
I suffer from anxiety and have bipolar disorder, and this element of escapism has helped with my mental health issues.
In the past I’ve suffered from panic attacks linked to social anxiety and, at times, stress in the workplace. A distracting outlet like Love Island allows me to shake off the adrenaline highs and the depressive lows that follow.
Instead of feeling anxious or having negative thoughts swirling around in my brain, I can watch Love Island and occupy my mind, while also connecting with other fans online.
Whether its watching someone get ‘pied off’ (rejected) or couples getting together, there is always something going on.
That’s what makes Love Island so addictive and calming, I often feel less anxious once I’ve watched an episode.
There are many humourous elements on the show including bromances (last years one between Kem and Chris and their rapping was a sight to behold) and people form tight friendship groups and attachments very quickly.
Instead of thinking about my daily worries, I’m wondering what’s going on in the contestants’ lives. Whether like last year we followed the ups and downs of Chris and Olivia, or Camilla finally finding her man, watching them build relationships, go on dates and play games is truly fascinating.
Of course, escapism doesn’t replace the support you get from a doctor, counsellor or family and friends.
While personally I’ve had a positive experience watching Love Island, the show has been criticised for exacerbating mental health issues for viewers and for its contestants, too.
Where vulnerability is concerned, all reality TV can influence people, for good or for bad,’ explains Jo Hemmings, a behavioural media and celebrity psychologist.
‘While it is very often real people in real time, it isn’t in fact a reflection of true reality at all and so it’s important to distinguish that what we are watching is a made-for-entertainment TV series, which may or may not bear any similarity to real life as we live it.
‘My advice would be if it brings you pleasure, enjoy it – but if it makes you feel uncomfortable or unhappy, it’s best to watch something else.
‘The Love Island contestants are well-cared for psychologically – assessed before the show and supported throughout. As a reality TV series, it is known for a few enduring relationships and friendships, so again I think they are treated with care and compassion off screen.’
At times, the show promotes a body image that can feel unrealistic, especially for someone like myself, having had a lot of therapy to improve my self-esteem.
Due to the perfect body image presented in can impact peoples self esteem especially if they have an eating disorder.
I asked my Twitter followers whether Love Island was good for our mental health? The most striking issue they presented to me was body image.
Edward Clements ‘ I can see how it will maybe affect people who are less confident with their body image and cause them to feel worse. This is mainly because most of the men are always shirt less and very fit’.
Sarah T ‘Definitely makes me body check & compare myself to girls on programme. I wouldnt want to eat whilst watching. I am in a good place at the moment in terms of my eating disorder but if I wasn’t could be triggering. The show encourages placing value of the person in the way they look rather than their personality values too.’
So, body image is a real concern for many watching the show. This state of perfection promotes a negative body image and could harm self esteem.
Ben Edwards, relationship coach and self confidence expert agrees with this,
‘Reality TV shows like Love Island can of course affect our mental health both positively or negatively. Some people may find that this reignites their belief in love as unlikely couples find romance on screen, providing hope. Reality TV does not always reflect reality. It might seem like harmless, light entertainment, we often compare ourselves because we feel something is missing. Confide in a loved one or seek professional advice if needed.’
The Love Island team said to us in a statement,
‘The duty of care towards all of our Islanders is always of paramount importance. Our islanders have ongoing access to an on site psychologist as well as show producers should they need it.’
I can’t wait for the next eight weeks of Love Island 2018.
It brings me joy each summer and I hope it will for you, too.
With thanks to Jo Hemmings, Ben Edwards, Love Island Press Team, Edward Clements and Sarah Tayleur for their expert comments.