Saturday's episode of Bigg Boss Tamil Season 3 has proved to be a new low for the reality TV show which has, in the past too, been called out for insensitivity. Contestant Madhumitha was eliminated from the show for attempting self-harm.
Hours before the episode was supposed to be aired, Vijay TV milked the situation further by releasing a promo for the episode that showed Madhumitha exiting the show and having a chat with Kamal Haasan. A bandage was prominently displayed on her wrist in the promo, adding fuel to the rumours about what had happened on the show.
The episode began with the voice of Bigg Boss making the following statement: “Since Madhumitha had indulged in a self-harming act during the show, which is against our rules, she has been removed from the Bigg Boss house.”
The episode did not discuss or show the reason for her exit but both Kamal, the host, and Madhumitha, spoke about the incident briefly, without going into details, during the first 15 minutes.
While Madhumitha, who had been engaged in arguments with other contestants in the past week, said that she had made the decision to express her feelings at that point, Kamal Haasan and Cheran (another contestant) chose to speak about their "disappointment" over her actions rather than offer empathy.
Host Kamal said, “I did not expect this from you, you who are one among the favourite three on the show, to take such a decision. People should generally not indulge in self-harm. It will also affect those who are watching you, right from children to older people who are watching the show.”
If the organisers of Bigg Boss are indeed aware that the show is watched by people of all ages, including children, it is unclear why they thought it was all right to air such an episode with so little understanding about mental health.
Speaking to TNM, Chennai-based psychiatrist Dr Swetha Raghavan says that self-harming is an indication of mental stress.
“It is generally a call for help. We call this deliberate self-harm. They may find self-inflicted pain to be a way to alleivate their existing depressive symptoms,” she says.
The premise of Bigg Boss is a closed door setting where contestants are supposedly cut off from the outside world, their friends and family. They’re under constant surveillance and are given tasks that are engineered to alter the dynamics in the house – sometimes in their favour and sometimes not. The show indulges the audience’s voyeurism by inviting them to watch how the contestants – who are mostly strangers – behave within the house.
Considering this, it is only to be expected that contestants may experience varying degrees of stress that may trigger mental health issues. It's unfair on part of the organisers and the host to not acknowledge this and instead rebuke the contestants for responding to the stress that they have created.
“They could have brought one expert on stage and spoken against it. It may not have been appropriate to discuss her state of mind on the show, because it is a sensitive issue. But more importance should be given when they are selecting a contestant. Sometimes human behaviour can be unpredictable. If they have had a previous attempt, and it is disclosed by the family, then they should not be selected. Weekly once, off the record, contestants can attend sessions with a counsellor or mental health professional," says Dr Poorna Chandrika, Director, Institute of Mental Health.
Vijay TV does not appear to have learned from the experience.
In Saturday’s episode, Madhumitha was chided for not being “strong-willed” and putting up with the stress for the rest of the season. She was characterised as “weak” for her actions.
Experts point out that shows such as Bigg Boss should bring on board a psychologist or psychotherapist to handle such situations instead of publicly parading the contestant for entertainment value.
Dr S Vandhana, a Chennai-based clinical psychologist, says, “Self-harm has to be dealt with very sensitively. The show holds the responsibility to show it properly to the audience. Only an expert will be able to treat it sensitively.”
Dr Swetha adds that people who are watching the show may not be in a position to read the situation correctly.
“How will a lay person be able to tell what is right and wrong in such cases? Ideally they should have a psychotherapist or a psychologist on the show. The contestants will have to be assessed first for their capacity to handle the stress, and then be allowed to enter the show. We do not know what state of mind someone enters the show with,” she points out.
Moreover, it is possible that airing such episodes may trigger copycat attempts to self-harm, cautions Dr Swetha.
“By showcasing this, there may be copycat incidents. There’s no need of stigma either. People with self-harming thoughts have to consult a therapist. And it’s not for a single time like on the show, it’s a long-term ongoing procedure,” she says.
In the first season, Bigg Boss had received flak from the medical community for asking contestants to behave like they were in a “mental hospital”, thereby ridiculing people who live with mental health issues. Host Kamal Haasan had tendered an apology to viewers about the task after widespread condemnation.
Bigg Boss reducing a serious issue like self-harm to a publicity stunt and using the incident to promote the show is despicable, and the host as well as the organisers need to get their priorities right.
If you or anyone you know is feeling depressed or suicidal, consider reaching out to one of the following helplines.
State health department suicide helpline number - 104
Sneha Suicide Prevention Centre - 044-24640050
Telangana government suicide prevention toll free number - 104
Roshni- 040-66202000, 66202001
SEVA- 09441778290, 040 - 27504682 (between 9 AM and 7 PM)
Sahai : 24-hour helpline numbers: 080- 65000111, 080-65000222
Maithri helpline - 0484-2540530
Chaithram helpline: 0484-2361161
Both are 24-hour helpline numbers.
Life Suicide Prevention Helpline No.78930-78930
Helpline 1: 9166202000
Helpline 2: 9127848584