While our insatiable appetite for reality TV shows no signs of slowing down, an expert has warned that former contestants with PTSD may be on the rise.
In recent years, former reality TV contestants have been increasingly candid about the mental health impact of the fast-paced avenue to fame, with a number of stars revealing symptoms of depression and anxiety after shooting.
But a handful of others – including MAFS favorite Domenica Calarco earlier this month – came forward with claims of post-traumatic stress disorder following their foray into the emotionally charged field.
Once a diagnosis is heard primarily among veterans and police officers, clinical psychologist Dr. Rebecca Ray told news.com.au that the high-stress environment of reality TV is full of potential triggers and explained why changing the narrative surrounding what defines a patient with the disorder is crucial.
So how does a diagnosis of PTSD come about?
PTSD is a series of reactions that occur after experiencing a traumatic event.
Symptoms, which include intrusive memories, avoidance behaviors around reminders of the event, negative thoughts and moods, and signs of distress including increased anxiety and inability to sleep, must be present for more than a month to lead to a diagnosis, Dr. Ray said.
“If symptoms resolve after a month, those symptoms are diagnosed as acute stress disorder, which is essentially a normal response to an abnormal event,” she explained.
Over the years the condition has been studied, rigorous debate has surrounded what constitutes a “traumatic event”.
Traditionally, according to Dr. Ray, a stressor was thought to involve only exposure to death, serious injury, sexual violence, or threats of such harm.
“So right off the bat, it’s clear from those criteria that being a reality TV contestant can’t lead to a diagnosis of PTSD,” she said, making it clear that we shouldn’t be dismissive given the MAFS “social experiment” carries its own set of dangers.
“What must be considered is that MAFS the “experiment” violates the psychological safety of the participant.
“This means that serious psychological injuries can (and do) occur during filming, often in response to situations produced for maximum entertainment value.”
Listing the show’s propensity to “create and encourage” conflict, bring together “opposing personality styles” and operate in the “long days of filming in uncomfortable conditions” associated with providing alcohol at dinner parties , Dr. Ray then questioned the show’s selection criteria. .
This, she says, is where the problem of “grouping big personalities together and putting them in situations to intentionally produce reactivity and distress” lies.
His comments come shortly after MAFS expert, Alessandra Rampolla, disclosed that contestants are chosen before matches are made.
“What might help are pre-participation psychological tests that screened for previous mental health issues, behavioral issues and any current symptomatology,” Dr. Ray suggested in a safer way, adding that “the focus is on helping participants navigate stressful filming conditions, rather than using it as an ingredient for more entertainment,” would benefit.
News.com.au contacted Channel 9 for a response to Dr Ray’s comments, but did not receive a response before publication.
How Dom’s life after MAFS led to therapeutic breakthrough
Speaking on his new podcast with a colleague MAFS wife Ella Ding, Dom said after filming, she found herself freaking out in group dinner situations reminiscent of the infamously explosive MAFS dinners.
Dom had been involved in a number of dinner parties arguments, including one in which she smashed a wine glass against a table in frustration, the moment which caused the season’s nude photos scandal.
But his PTSD revelation prompted alarming responses, with some news.com.au readers suggesting the diagnosis was inaccurate or simply an exaggeration on Dom’s part.
“It’s an insult to real PTSD sufferers like those who fought for our country,” one person said on Facebook said in response to our story.
“You don’t get PTSD from ‘dinner parties,'” echoed another.
Dr Ray said this was a common misconception.
“The problem with this attitude is that it ignores the fact that PTSD is not only diagnosed based on the severity and type of the event, it is also diagnosed based on the reaction to the event.
“The majority of people exposed to trauma – whether it’s a breach of psychological safety resulting in psychological injury from reality TV, or being deployed in a war situation – don’t feel the full spectrum of PTSD symptoms or do not meet the criteria for a diagnosis.Some people do.Comparison of trauma and its validity is not helpful at all and negates the personal experience of the individual.
Although Dr. Ray pointed out that not all reality TV contestants will have the same experience, Dom isn’t the first MAFS star to leave with symptoms.
MAFS’ PTSD past and a former expert’s ominous foreshadowing
Ines Basic, who was embroiled in one of the show’s infamous ‘cheating sagas’ during the 2019 season of the Channel 9 reality show, said Now love his mental health suffered during and after filming.
Opening up to the post, she revealed that she was diagnosed with “complex PTSD” within months of filming the show, due to conditions on set. She said she was again traumatized by her “mean editing” while watching the show.
“I was not well during and after [the show]I think it was obvious but it got even worse,” she told Now To Love.
“I was diagnosed with complex PTSD. It was 110% caused by the show. Nothing normal in the conditions on these plateaus or what [they] do you,” she said.
In 2020, Natasha Spencer, who had been sexually abused as a child, said her past trauma was triggered when another bride on the program made indecent assault allegations against a groom.
Spencer suffered from what she described as a “mental breakdown” while filming and eventually left the show of her own accord.
Last year she said ABC News it took him almost two years to recover from the ordeal.
At the time, the old MAFS Expert Dr Trisha Stratford told the outlet that she was aware of Natasha’s struggles but felt left out when she tried to voice her concerns. After Dr Stratford resigned in 2020she gave a scathing interview about her time on the show.
“In the end, I couldn’t compromise my professional and personal standards because there were participants on the show who I felt shouldn’t have been there,” Dr. Stratford said. women’s day New Zealand in 2021.
She claimed MAFS candidates who were flagged as “fragile” by experts in the selection process often made it to the final group, recalling “there were participants on the show who, in my opinion, should not have been the”.
Interestingly, the New Zealand-based therapist then compared the MAFS experience of “conflict in war zones”, saying she “felt sick” watching some of the dinners unfold.
PTSD is not exclusive to MAFSneither, with an ex-reality star’s diagnosis setting a major legal precedent in 2019.
Nicole Prince, of the Channel 7 reality competition house rules was compensated after developing anxiety, depression and PTSD due to the severe backlash and threats she received following her portrayal of “nasty”.
Prince claimed she was unemployable as potential bosses feared she was a “bully” due to her portrayal.
The risks of watching your own season after a triggering experience
Dr Ray said watching the show can hinder recovery in some cases, while for others it can actually help put the experience behind them.
“It depends on where the person is when the show airs,” she said.
“If the person struggled during the filming but has undergone psychological treatment and is well supported by professionals and has healthy relationships around them, then some people might prefer to know what has been broadcast so that they can then process and move on.
“For other people, watching the final cut can be a trigger that intensifies post-traumatic symptoms, as it exposes them to the lack of control they have over how they are portrayed. This lack of control creates even more distress when the participant has no right to reply and continues to be vilified in the media.
How to deal with PTSD
“PTSD is manageable and it is absolutely possible to fully recover and live a rich and meaningful life after experiencing trauma,” Dr. Ray said.
“Moving forward, get help from your doctor and a mental health professional who will make you feel seen, heard and understood, focus on healthy routines for your body and mind (good sleep, nutrition and movement habits), and stay close to people who love you and make you feel good about them.
Dr. Rebecca Ray is a clinical psychologist, speaker and author of Small Habits for a Big Life, Pan Macmillan, comes out this weekend.
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