Mark Davies is director of communications at Rethink Mental Illness.

Comment: X Factor preys on the vulnerable

Comment: X Factor preys on the vulnerable

Last weekend's X Factor exposed an extremely vulnerable woman to ridicule. That is just plain unacceptable.

By Mark Davies

It is difficult to imagine how X Factor producers decided that ridiculing and humiliating Ceri Rees would make good Sunday night family viewing.

Whilst none of us should speculate on Ceri's mental health, she certainly seemed vulnerable. And whatever her position, the way in which she was apparently encouraged by the programme to have a fourth stab at fame despite her earlier unsuccessful appearances was gratuitous and verged on bullying.

At Rethink Mental Illness, we're used to standing up for people who, because of the misunderstandings and myths about mental illnesses, are vulnerable. People with a mental illness – and one in four of us will experience mental ill-health at some point – need support and help to recover.

While there is clearly some way to go in terms of busting the myths around mental illness, one of the many things we at the charity are encouraged by, is that it feels that the tide is definitely turning. People increasingly feel more able to talk about mental illness – whether it's their own or that of a family member or friend.

There has been widespread support and empathy for celebrities such as the cricketer Michael Yardy and Catherine Zeta Jones, when they are open about their mental health problems. Geoff Boycott was a lone voice of criticism when Michael Yardy spoke out, and he was rightly and roundly condemned for his outdated views. That might not have happened a few years ago.

In a similar way one positive thing to come from the X Factor's decision is the extent of the revulsion and criticism the show received. Ceri Rees has been catapulted into the spotlight because of her vulnerability and who knows what impact this experience may have on her current and future well-being?

There is no reason at all why someone with a mental illness, learning disability or physical health problem should not audition for the X Factor if they wish to. Most of us probably think that they should be encouraged to do so if it helps them, if their talent is recognised and if they have the right support in place.

When Ceri left the stage after her audition, there could be few who felt she had been helped, had a previously unrecognised talent or had support. Ceri cut an isolated and bewildered figure as she left the stage. That so many people felt uncomfortable by what they saw shows that this crossed the line.

Those who oversee the X Factor surely have a duty now to look at the way they oversee the selection of contestants. If one good thing is to come out of this episode it must be recognition by programme makers that they need to put in place new measures to ensure that the well-being of contestants is better protected. We stand ready to help them meet their responsibilities. We hope they will see that, after the Ceri Rees episode, they need to respond.

Mark Davies is director of communications at Rethink Mental Illness.

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