The X Factor and mental health
Posted Tuesday 20 September 2011
The annual dose of X Factor controversy appears to have arrived in the past few days with this morning’s press focusing on the treatment of wannabe singer Ceri Rees, who was rejected from the programme for the fourth time in Sunday night’s show.
This has sparked another round of discussion in the media about the psychological effect on contestants taking part in the programme, and whether vulnerable people are being ‘exploited’ or ‘humiliated’.
Firstly, it is important to recognise that we have no reason to suspect that Ms Rees has any form of mental health problem. To assume that she does, as some of the media coverage has suggested, is presumptuous and stigmatising.
I know many people without a mental health problem who believe they can sing beautifully but can’t carry a note – having delusions about one’s own ability is not the sole preserve of mental illness.
However, regardless of Ms Rees’s own mental health, this is not the first time that concerns have been raised about the mental wellbeing of contestants on the show, and whether it is appropriate for vulnerable people to take part in these programmes.
People with mental health problems have as much right as anyone else to take part in reality TV programmes, such as the X Factor, and should not be prevented from doing so purely on the basis of their condition. Like anyone who dreams of being a pop star, people with mental health problems should be allowed to participate in the show on an equal footing.
Every year, one in four people in the UK experiences a mental health problem so it is entirely likely that there are contestants who are experiencing mental distress yet are perfectly capable of coping with the rigours of the show and the stress this brings.
Will Young, winner of the first Pop Idol, has spoken publicly of his battles with depression, showing that a mental health problem need be no barrier to a successful career.
Broadcasters do have a duty of care to their contestants though. They have a responsibility to ensure that anyone appearing on their programme is up to the pressure that these shows can bring.
It has been reported that previous X Factor contestants, such as Cher Lloyd in last year’s finals, have struggled with the stress the environment can bring. This applies to contestants in the early rounds as much as the finalists and it does seem that participants are not always given the support they need.
It is important that mental health does not become a spectator sport with participants provoked into distressed states for the entertainment of the viewing public. Ultimately, it is a decision for programme makers as to whether participants are shown auditioning for the show.
Should Ceri Rees have been broadcast at such length on Sunday night’s show in a way that could be seen as humiliating? Without knowing more about her particular history and mental wellbeing it is difficult to say. It is also tricky to judge the programme without seeing what goes on behind the cameras – are contestants such as Ceri given the support they need in a responsible manner that doesn’t push them into a situation they may be uncomfortable with? Or are they ‘egged on’ by production staff who want to build her up before the judges knock her down?
The mental health of participants on reality TV programmes is absolutely paramount and I certainly hope that the producers take their responsibilities seriously. I would encourage them to provide mental health first aid training for their staff to ensure that everyone is able to take part in the show should they want to, but are given appropriate support and assistance before, during and after they step on stage.
Matthew Taylor, Senior Media Officer
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