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Reality Is Not Real

After the tragic death of Mike Thalassatis, the subject of reality TV's aftercare is under fierce debate. But is something else to blame?

Mike Thalassitis Who Was Found Dead at the Age of 26

When the tragic news of Mike Thalassitis’ death was announced, you could hear the collective gasp from the reality-show-watching audiences across the nation. Here was a man, only 26-years-old—attractive, charming, a successful career—he seemed to have it all. How wrong we all were. Mike was found dead in woodland near his Essex home. Police confirmed he had committed suicide, and that confirmation on the cause of his early death has ignited a passionate debate.

This article isn’t the first I have written on mental health, but Mike’s death proves that anyone is susceptible to the carnage of depression and expectation.

Mike Thalassitis was first introduced to a nationwide audience through ITV 2’s Love Island. The series, which had already aired two seasons prior, had seen its popularity increase ten-fold. Across all social media platforms, commentary was obsessively posted, and it was here where Mike received his nickname, “Muggy Mike.”

Long after leaving the hugely popular ITV 2 dating show, that unfortunate nickname stuck. And whilst it may seem unfair now, it did, in places, allow the reality star to earn fame and fortune. But, as we now know, it wouldn’t be enough.

Sophie Gradon Who Was Found Dead at the Age of 32

Reports and rumours have swirled in recent days as to why the seemingly happy 26-year-old took his own life. From the recent death of his grandmother, to spiralling debts, there seems to be a cacophony of potential explanations. And whilst these may now seem pointless, as they can never heal the grief and pain inflicted on his family and friends, we should look at Mike’s life and death as a moment of reflection.

What has become apparent in the aftermath of this young man’s suicide, is the conversation of the “aftercare” provided by the production studios. This wouldn’t necessarily be an argument given attention if Mike’s death was a tragic one-off, but that isn’t the case. Sadly, months before, another Love Island contestant was found dead due to suicide—Sophie Gradon, 32. Both the deaths have now led many to openly question the support provided to contestants who enter these types of reality shows. But is it really fair to blame the production companies for this unnecessary tragic loss of life?

I don’t think it is.

What should be blamed is the culture which has willingly and freely cocooned the reality genre. Here is a show which can provide instant fame, success, and can make you a household name, all for simply being yourself. Except that isn’t particularly true. The majority of the contestants aren’t like the people you see onscreen, they are an extreme version of themselves.

Shortly after Mike’s death, many of his fellow contestants from his series took to Twitter to send condolences, but to also call out the media for referring to him as his nickname “Muggy Mike” instead of his actual name Mike Thalassitis. Why? Because according to those who knew him, Mike was nothing like the womanizer portrayed on-screen. In fact, he was described as “warm, caring and loyal.” Yet, those character traits didn’t bring the headlines, or the fame which comes with them. They didn’t live up to the character concocted on the show which made him famous in the first place.

We have seen for decades how actors are referred to, and judged by the characters they play, especially amongst children. But someone like Hollywood actor Chris Hemsworth isn’t Thor, he can’t produce lightening or control thunder. He also isn’t a Norse God, and thus he isn’t held to these unattainable standards.

Mike Thalassitis

Reality stars are judged not against a character, but a version of themselves. And what if you can no longer live up to yourself? What if, the character many believe you to be is no longer enough? What if the advertising deals end? The TV networks lose interest? Social media moves onto the next batch of Love Island contestants? What happens when, after the addictive embrace of fame, you are forced to return to your life before? For most, they are unable to cope.

This isn’t ITV’s, or any other production company’s fault. It isn’t down to them to ensure the success of your career. Yes, perhaps more could be done regarding the longevity of “aftercare,” but if the media loses interest, and that is incredibly common, nothing is to blame but the society we now live in.

Being famous is wrongly now considered a career choice. And with avenues which now provide an “easy” route to fame without an exceptional or unique skill, it is becoming dangerously appealing to the younger generations. It should be shocking—though sadly it isn’t—that more teenagers applied to appear on the latest series of Love Island, than to attend University! This should signify the problem we all now face, and the naivety amongst the younger generations today.

We are in the midst of a mental health epidemic, where young people are struggling to cope. That struggle stems from the inability to accept failure; to embrace being knocked back. The word "no" has become so fearful that many are choosing to end their lives because of it.

The toxicity of instant fame, and the desperate attempts to prolong it are encompassing a generation who are focused too much on being a success. Their definitions of what it means to be successful are sadly misguided. Fame and fortune are not emblems of achievement, they are side-effects, and when you speak to most who have attained them, they would more than happily give them up.

Mike Thalassitis’ death speaks to something greater than accusations of a lack of care from ITV 2. It highlights a bigger problem which is absent of a remedy. Being yourself is enough. Failure isn’t a bad thing, fame and fortune isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and there is and always will be someone to talk to. We will tragically never know if Mike believed any of this, or whether, in the end, he could’ve been saved. But what we do know is that there are many young people out there who are suffering silently like Mike did; who to the world it seems as if they have it all, when inside they feel they have nothing. 

For more information on men's mental health, follow the link below.

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