‘Someone should have looked after us’: the boundary work of mental health disclosure on TV
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionMedia, Culture and Society. 2022, 44 (5), 935-950. https://doi.org/10.1177/01634437211069970
This article investigates the boundary work of young people who disclose personal experiences of mental health illness and trauma in a reality TV series. The programme in focus features group therapy sessions led by a professional psychologist, supplemented by personal video diaries. Combining disclosure theory with media sociological perspectives, the article analyses how boundaries are drawn, negotiated or trespassed in the production process. Data is based on in-depth interviews with participants, supplemented with background interviews with the production team and therapist. A main finding is that participants’ experiences in retrospect vary greatly: from accounts of meaningful self-disclosure to regret, increased strain and flare up of illness. Participants with negative experiences highlighted a lack of control over their stories, alienating representations of themselves and guilt about revealing information about third parties. The article concludes that interventional ‘do-good TV’, which builds authority and rhetorical ethos by offering professional therapy to participants, calls for careful consideration of the often-opaque relations of power and instrumental interests involved in this production setting.