They may be all smiles on television, but when the cameras stop rolling, contestants from some of America's favorite reality shows are left broken, depressed, and suicidal.
Last week, fans of long-running reality show The Bachelor were stunned to learn that Lex McAllister, a peppy blonde beauty, had taken her life years after competing on the show.
After losing her bid to win the love of Jake Pavelka, the 31-year-old Ohioan found herself struggling to make sense of her life, and longing for the coveted love story that she had chased on the show.
In a troubled note, McAllister wrote that her life was a nightmare because of “those who take but do not give, those who throw stones and those who have nothing to offer, but their own grief and angst.” Two months later, she killed herself by overdosing on pills.
Sadly, McAllister was not the first Bachelor contestant to end her own life. After competing on the show, 29-year-old Gia Allemand fell in love with her boyfriend, NBA star Ryan Anderson. However, after she accused him of being unfaithful, he allegedly told her, "I don't love you anymore." She hanged herself with a vacuum cleaner cord as she spoke on the phone with her mother.
These reality show suicides are inevitable according to New York psychotherapist Dr. Gilda Carle. “I call this ‘The Happily Ever After Syndrome’ because people who go on these shows believe it will change their lives and will be the answer to all their problems,” she told Radar Online. “They have great difficulty taking rejection and even if they succeed, real life is cruel and success fluctuates.“
In fact, according to one study, the suicide rate for reality show contestants averages nearly THREE TIMES the national norm of 12.4 per 100,000 people. According to Dr. Carle, shows like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette attract people who are especially vulnerable by playing into their romantic dreams — people like 35-year-old Julien Hug who shot himself, leaving a note saying, “If life's not enjoyable, why stick around?"
Still, romantic fantasy shows are not the only reality tv programs that have left contestants suicidal. American Idol contestant Paula Goodspeed, 30, overdosed in her car after being mocked for wearing braces and tuneless singing. She turned out to be obsessed with one of the judges who booted her, Paula Abdul. Her license plate read "ABL LV" and a photo of Paula was on the rear-view mirror.
Three years after “Kitchen Nightmares“ host Gordon Ramsay screamed that a business owned by a chef on his cooking show was “about to f**king swim down the Hudson,” Joseph Cerniglia killed himself by throwing himself into the Hudson River.
Even “family-friendly” shows like “Supernanny” have proved deadly. Single dad James Terrill, 37, shot himself a few months after seeking help on the program with raising his two sons. After the cameras left, he found himself still struggling with parenting solo.
Still, there are others who found themselves on the verge of suicide, and managed to fight back and share their journeys with the world.
Josh Gracin, a 33-year-old ex-Marine, found himself battling depression despite several Top 5 hits and posted an apparent suicide note on Facebook. He continues to fight on and make music today.
“Idol” winner Fantasia Barrino, 26, was hospitalized in Aug. 2010 before the debut of her third album after swallowing a bottle of aspirin “I didn't have any fight in me. I didn't care about anything. I just wanted out," she said. Five years after surviving her suicide attempt, she went on to marry her husband. Today, she continues to delight fans with her powerful voice.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, please do not hesitate to seek help.