The 2020 season of Married At First Sight is about to start, and for the contestants it’s the beginning of a whole new life.
While Instagram fame, free dinners and perhaps a new relationship will be a nice novelty for the cast, former reality TV stars warn there’s still a prickly future ahead, with mental health at the centre of their concerns.
Former Married At First Sight star Tracey Jewel previously said she experienced anxiety and felt more alone than ever after she filmed the Channel Nine show in 2018, especially considering she “wasn’t prepared for the backlash” from viewers.
“I felt upset and disappointed that not only did I not come away with a husband, I came away with a lot of problems I didn’t have before the show,” she told HuffPost Australia.
“It was like, why did I give up all that part of my life and share so much of myself with the public on television? Why did I do this?”
The 36-year-old claimed the support offered by the TV network after filming was “nowhere near” what she needed, and suggested more aftercare be provided to future contestants.
“I had to really take it upon myself to get help,” she said. “I was really struggling so I took it upon myself to start seeing a psychologist and getting my own support and educating myself on how to deal with the trolls and how to deal with my anxiety.”
Tracey said Channel Nine production staff would “check in” on her after the show ended with phone calls, but she would’ve preferred face-to-face sessions with a psychologist in her hometown of Perth.
“Because I’m in Perth, having a phone call with Channel Nine every now and again isn’t going to cut it. I needed weekly support, and it shouldn’t matter whether I’m in Perth or not. The every-now-and-again check-in, it’s just not acceptable,” she said.
“I felt upset and disappointed that not only did I not come away with a husband, I came away with a lot of problems I didn’t have before the show.”
“I think they should provide psychologist check-ins and not five to 10 minute chats, but a normal psychologist you would go to see for an hour. That’s what’s needed. I don’t think it’s something that should wait until the problem, because then it’s almost like the damage is done.
“It should be offered to everyone, regardless of whether they’re having problems or not, as a preventative measure. A lot of this is early intervention.”
Tracey admitted she did see the show’s psychologist on three occasions during filming, for 20 minutes at a time, but emphasised it’s the aftercare she believes needs to be focused on.
“While filming, you’re in a bubble. No one knows who you are yet. When you need care is when you get out of the other side. That’s when you really need that support because you’re dealing with another layer of the media and the public knowing who you are and no one understands that and that’s when you need guidance.
“To tell you a big statement, ‘get off social media’, that doesn’t really help that much. It’s not very practical.”
Tracey’s call for better aftercare for contestants comes after concerns for the mental health of reality TV stars following the suicides of UK Love Island stars Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon and the death of a guest on The Jeremy Kyle Show, which has since been suspended indefinitely.
Tracey’s on-screen husband, Dean Wells, agreed that life became “stressful” after appearing on the show.
“We’re just these normal people who live normal lives, and then all of a sudden you’re on every TV screen, magazine and newspaper in Australia, and the whole world is having an opinion about you and they don’t even know you. It’s very stressful,” said the 2020 Dancing With The Stars contestant.
In a statement to HuffPost Australia, a Channel Nine spokesperson said: “Nine takes its obligations in respect to the health and wellbeing of the participants of this program extremely seriously. All participants have access to the show psychologist during filming, during broadcast and once the program has ended.
“Nine has arranged an additional service for participants should they like or need further individual and confidential psychological support. This service gives participants access to psychologists who have been specifically engaged to support those involved in the program in relation to their experiences. This service is a dedicated helpline from which participants can also arrange face to face sessions and is an ongoing service available to them all after the series has ended.”
“There is a dedicated show psychologist and support team available to every participant throughout the entire production, broadcast and beyond.”
Megan Marx, who appeared on the 2016 season of The Bachelor Australia, said she had not prepared for the social media backlash and anxiety she faced after appearing on the Channel Ten show.
“People think you come out and all of a sudden you’re Instagram famous, but the reality is it’s so far from that,” she told HuffPost Australia.
“You don’t know who you are. I quit my job and moved to Bali. I’d been in a very dark place.”
“Coming out of a show like that, you need calluses, not just thick skin to deal with the amount of negative energy.”
“It doesn’t matter how well you’re portrayed, people are going to hate you. I was edited pretty well, but I still copped so much hate about how I look. Coming out of a show and people knowing who you are and having an opinion about you, it’s not normal.”
Megan said the heightened fame and negative viewer reactions didn’t take a toll on her mental health until half a year after filming wrapped up.
“It wasn’t straight after the show, it was probably six months later,” she said. “You don’t know who you are. I quit my job and moved to Bali. I’d been in a very dark place.”
She acknowledged the support Channel Ten provided her and her co-stars, including access to a psychologist during and after filming.
“They’ve got a psychologist you can talk to whenever you want. You can call them up or Skype with them,” she said. “There’s support there, but even still, it’s not an easy fix. It’s not the kind of thing where you go, ‘oh I spoke to the psychologist so I’m absolutely fine now’. It takes time.
“Personally, I think what would help people more is, yes, there’s support during the show and after, but what about in terms of pre-support and knowing what to expect?”
A Channel Ten spokesperson told HuffPost Australia: “Participants have access to an open line of discussion with a psychologist at any time they choose before, during and in the months after production”.
If you or someone you know needs help:
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
Headspace on 1800 650 890
Outside of Australia, please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.