After five years of absence, the reality show that started it all, Big Brother, returns to our screens this weekend.
The 20th series, and the first in five years, will see a “diverse” group of strangers from “all walks of life” locked in the new house in west London for six weeks.
ITV is rebooting the show as the “ultimate social experiment” that goes “back to basics”, closer to the format of the first series from more than two decades ago.
Although this year the contestants will have more psychological support than ever, there will still be concerns for their well-being in what is a unique and frankly strange social environment.
MailOnline has spoken to psychologists (and a former Big Brother housemate from 2001) to see what mental health strains the contestants will face.
The 20th series, the first in five years, will see a “diverse” group of strangers locked up in Big Brother’s new west London house (pictured).
When the contestants feel like they can’t talk to their fellow townspeople, the only one who will listen will be Big Brother. The photo shows the chair in the diary room from season nine where the inhabitants sat and conversed with the disembodied voice of Big Brother.
Dr. Sarah Bishop, a registered clinical psychologist based in Birmingham, said contestants will likely encounter anxiety, stress, loneliness, mood swings and more.
“Living in the Big Brother house can be a rollercoaster for the housemates, with some psychological challenges along the way,” he told MailOnline.
«Being constantly watched, feeling isolated and without privacy are naturally difficult for humans to tolerate.
‘Having limited control over your routines and interactions can lead to frustration and anxiety.
‘The pressure to perform, entertain and strategize can also take a toll on your mental wellbeing.
“Add to this the pressure of being under scrutiny and the fear of being judged by both housemates and the public, and it’s a recipe for stress and shyness.
“Also on a personal level, being away from loved ones for a long time can cause homesickness and loneliness.”
In previous series, related psychological signs included mood changes, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, increased aggression, crying and self-isolation, Dr. Bishop added.
David Wilson, professor of criminology at Birmingham City University, worked as a consultant during the fifth season of Big Brother in 2004.
But he quit when the show’s makers ignored his professional advice against reintroducing the “evicted” housemates on welfare grounds (the show’s producers went ahead with the move, which sparked a row).
According to the expert, who specializes in aspects related to incarceration, some contestants may face more challenges once they leave home than when they are already inside.
An expert specializing in penitentiary aspects referred to the Big Brother house as an “institution.” In the photo is the house from the sixth series.
“Clearly, if a lot of people watch, they will focus on particular characters, and that external attention on them could magnify some of their mental health problems,” he told MailOnline.
‘These are not real examples, but they may have had grief, addiction or abuse issues in the past.
“They might keep this relatively close to themselves or their friends, but they might not realize that the entire public will know about it because they’ve discussed it within the confines of an institution that records their every move.”
Writing for MailOnline in 2009, when original broadcaster Channel 4 first decided to pull the plug on the show, Professor Wilson called Big Brother a “repellent freak show” that “promoted a climate of intimidation”.
Both former housemates and experts have also criticized the show’s format for getting progressively worse in the quest for ratings.
A former star of series 17, Laura Cartner, said Big Brother “ruined her life” because she suffered from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder after leaving home.
And after the seventh series, a psychologist at Glasgow Caledonian University also criticized the decision to recruit contestants with Tourette syndrome and a history of mental illness.
Dean O’Loughlin, who came third in the second series of Big Brother in 2001, initially had panic attacks after entering the house and suffered paranoia on leaving.
“I had a history of panic attacks which had completely disappeared a few years before I went on the show and which returned quite dramatically during the first few days of my incarceration,” he told MailOnline.
Dean O’Loughlin (far right), who came third in the second series of Big Brother in 2001, said he initially had panic attacks after entering the house.
‘The absolutely bizarre nature of Big Brother brought them back. I was ready to quit the show the second night and had to talk to myself in the bathrooms.
“When I left, I had intense paranoia for the first week, although I put it down to the fact that everyone had been watching me for nine weeks and people I passed on the street were staring at me.”
Dean said he felt like “the goalposts were constantly moving” inside, because people he had formed a bond with were always kicked out.
He also struggled with the ‘backstabbing behavior’ (voting other people out each week) that was a key part of the show’s format.
Fortunately, the show’s producers have increased the level of mental health support since the last series in 2018, which will extend until after people have left home, although it is unclear for how long.
This year, housemates must take part in ‘respect and inclusion training’ and will have access to individual mental health support sessions before, during and after the show, as set out by the show’s new duty of care protocols.
Aerial view of housemates in the garden of the Big Brother House 2010 in Elstree, Hertfordshire. The 2023 house is in Garden Studios, a newly built studio in west London.
Prior to filming, all housemates have undergone psychological and medical assessments, including checks by an independent doctor and debriefings from each of their GPs.
ITV said: “The wellbeing of everyone involved in making the show is of paramount importance and wellbeing protocols have been carefully considered to offer a robust assessment of suitability to take part, informed consent and support throughout the casting process and filming and beyond.
Dr Sarah Bishop called the new duty of care protocols “a momentous development” which means a change in attitudes towards mental health.
“It is a challenging journey from a psychological perspective, but with the right support and coping strategies, housemates can overcome these challenges,” she said.
Big Brother: Launches on ITV1, STV, ITV2 and ITVX on Sunday 8 October from 9pm.
Big Brother 2023: full duty of care protocols
Housemates must undergo a social media blackout, participate in “respect and inclusion training” and will have access to individual mental health support sessions before, during and after the show.
Respect and inclusion training will set expectations for the use of language and acceptable behavior in the House.
Prior to filming, all Housemates underwent medical and psychological evaluations, including evaluations by an independent physician, mental health professionals, and debriefing reports from each Housemate’s primary care physician.
The housemates were also required to confidentially disclose any medical history or other information that was relevant to their participation in Big Brother.
Additionally, your family and friends will be asked not to post any content to your individual social accounts while you remain in the House in a social media blackout.
ITV also said the Housemates were given information about the experience of taking part in Big Brother, including the possible positive and negative implications.
Contestants also undergo a series of background checks, including verification of their social networks, by an independent specialist service.
The show’s social welfare team and other members of the editorial and production team received training in mental health first aid and “respect and inclusion.”
ITV says the team has set Big Brother expectations for appropriate behavior and language.
Housemates are also provided and explained housemate rules which set expectations and explain key aspects of life in the Big Brother House.
While in the House, mental health professionals are available to housemates to provide ongoing support during their stay in the House.
The Big Brother social care team also supports friends and family with regular contacts and updates.
After leaving the Big Brother House, personalized training will be given on managing social networks and the press.
A mandatory session with a mental health professional will also be provided immediately after a housemate leaves the house.
Further support sessions specific to each housemate’s individual needs will be provided and support will remain in place until mental health professionals have agreed an end date for each individual housemate.
Ongoing contact from the social welfare officer will be maintained for a period of 14 months following the end of the series and additional help will also be offered where necessary.