British reality TV show 'Love Island,' linked to string of suicides, prepares to return - this time with a warning

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2021/05/26: Love Island couple Luke Trotman and Siannise Fudge seen out on a shopping trip in central London. (Photo by Brett Cove/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
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LONDON - It is the romantic reality show most of Britain, especially the younger generations, will be talking about when it returns to television screens next week.

But ahead of the first new episode, set to air on June 28, "Love Island" broadcaster ITV is warning viewers to "think before you post," a move by the network to head off the vicious online harassment many past contestants have faced after soaring to fame - sparking concerns about the mental health of contestants, after at least three people associated with the show committed suicide.

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The appeal from producers comes as the mothers of two contestants who took their own lives after being featured on the show in previous years urged the cast of 2021 to pull out of the coming seventh season.

"They should walk away now before it's too late," said the mother of Sophie Gradon, who took her own life after starring on the 2016 series of the show. Deborah Gradon said her daughter was never the same after appearing on the program, which has shattered viewership records in Britain and sparked a U.S. version, commissioned by CBS. "They don't understand just how much the overnight fame and the trolling can affect them," she told a British tabloid.

In 2019, a July episode of the U.K. series alone attracted an estimated six million viewers.

Former beauty queen Sophie died at the age of 32. She was found by her boyfriend Aaron Armstrong, who took his own life less than 3 weeks later. Speaking of Armstrong's death, a coroner noted that "his thinking was muddled by the distress of Sophie's death," and "the distress at having found her."

Last week, Gradon's mother met with Shirley Thalassitis, whose son, Mike, also took his own life after appearing on the 2017 series of the show. Thalassitis died by suicide in 2019 at the age of 26.

His death sparked calls for ITV to better protect the mental health of those connected to the show - in which groups of single people, most of whom are eliminated over the course of a season, must form couples while cooped up in a luxury apartment in Mallorca.

"You just can't predict how being on the show is going to affect people," Mike's mother said just days before the widely anticipated 2021 lineup of contestants was announced.

After she began presenting the show in 2015, British presenter Caroline Flack became the much loved face of "Love Island." But in December 2019, after a turbulent time in her personal life, Flack told fans she would no longer host the program.

At the time, some fans expressed anger that she had been forced to resign from the role, as broadcaster ITV said it had a "long standing relationship with the star" but understood her decision.

Flack was embroiled in a domestic violence case and was charged with assaulting her partner, Lewis Burton. The allegations saw social media trolls and the British tabloid incessantly hound the star, who died by suicide at the age of 40 in February 2020.

Her death renewed concern over the treatment famous people face both in the media and by members of the public. The Sun newspaper had branded the star "Caroline Whack," documenting the details of alleged violence and her coming trial, while paparazzi hounding the star snapped images of her looking anguished and withdrawn as she entered court.

"The UK tabloid press is a disgrace in treating the worst moments of people's lives as entertainment," the Guardian's Hannah Jane Parkinson tweeted at the time.

Last week, bosses of the show announced new "duty of care protocols," to help those featured on the show to prepare for life before, during and after it.

The package includes financial management training, therapy sessions with registered professionals and information regarding both the positive and negative aspects appearing on the show can have.

Gradon's told reporters that the show's producers were undertaking a box ticking exercise. "I won't be happy until the show is off air," she said.

          

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