As noted in a previous post, for many years now, I have watched The Bachelor(ette). This season (Chris Soules, “Prince Farming”) has included several incidents that have left me frustrated by how they were handled on the show. In particular, I feel as though this season has had two participants who may suffer from mental illness which was handled poorly over the course of show.
The first participant was Ashley S., age 24, who was eliminated in week four. From the very first episode, Ashley demonstrated signs of possibly having schizophrenia, though her mental challenges were never talked about as such. Instead, the other participants labeled Ashley as scary, crazy, dangerous, and more. Ashley’s behavior on the zombie hunting date and in her final episode on the show also illustrated her patterns of distracted thinking which was difficult for those outside of her head to understand.
In the “Chris [Soules] Tells All” special (and its second part) shown part way through the season, Chris Harrison, the host, showed a small amount of Ashley’s application video where she seems far more stable (or in Chris H.’s awkward words, “incredibly normal.”) Perhaps this was due to editing of her audition tape. Perhaps her behavior changed drastically on the show because the stress of the schedule and the cameras was more than she could handle. Perhaps she chose to stop medications that she’d been on during the audition tape because she didn’t want her housemates (and the rest of the nation) to find out that she took psychiatric medications. Perhaps she was on medications but the amount of alcohol she was consuming interfered with the medications’ ability to function. Perhaps she is someone who can function without medications normally but not when under the influence of alcohol, limited sleep, and high pressure. There are so many potential explanations for why her behavior might have changed between the audition tape and the actual show.
Regardless of what the reasons are, Ashley S. was used to boost ratings. Her probable mental illness was ridiculed. Instead of compassion, she faced a lack of understanding and a great deal of judgment. I would hope that ABC was truly unaware of her mental health issues when casting her on the show. However, after the fact, I am disappointed that ABC edited the show in such a way to put an emphasis on how “crazy” she is rather than offering education and explanation for what happened with her. I’m disappointed that so few of the participants vocalized genuine concern for making sure that Ashley got the psychiatric assistance she needed, or if more did, that their concerns were edited out of the final episodes.
And then there was Kelsey. As a 28 year old guidance counselor living in Austin, she was the local woman that I was hoping I would get to cheer on. Very quickly, it became evident to me that she would not be one of my favorites. ABC definitely emphasized the traumatically widowed aspect of her history throughout the show. In this first introductory video, Kelsey is unable to talk about the death of her husband, 16 months prior, without tearing up. Any therapist or life coach as well as many non-professionals will say that a person is probably not ready to move on in the dating world if they can’t relate their story of loss without breaking down. (The same could also be said for the other widow this season, Juelia, whose late husband committed suicide when their daughter was seven weeks old.)
As the show progressed, Kelsey’s personality became stranger and stranger. The final straw for most people came in the week when she talked about how she “loved her story.” What I’m guessing that Kelsey wanted to convey was that she is a strong woman, and while she deeply misses her late husband, she’s grateful for the growth she’s undergone since his death. She likely wanted to vocalize some version of the popular saying that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” However, what came out had a completely different meaning. Kelsey has widely claimed, including on her Facebook page, that she was misinterpreted and that ABC framed her to look like a villain. I completely believe that there is editing done on this show (and many others) that leaves out important information and which can make contestants look far worse than they actually are. However, Kelsey’s words were obviously not spliced together when she claimed to love her story. She was quite clear about what she was saying in her monologues.
As one begins to explore more about Kelsey through the amazing powers of the internet, her story becomes even more bizarre. In particular, her late husband’s obituary is more about her than him at various points. While one can certainly understand celebrating their love and loss, discussing her graduation after his death seems completely out of place. The repetitious and awkward mentions of their relationship also seem improper for an obituary. While one can argue this was something written during a time of grief, the obituary still seems inappropriate in many ways.
In my estimation, I suspect Kelsey has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), a condition in which the individual is very self-centered and very self-focused. As she demonstrated, her late husband’s death wasn’t about him: It was about her. A narcissistic perspective is not a healthy one, and in its extreme, NPD is a mental illness. I have dealt with many narcissists in my life. They are very difficult people to live and work with. Many others have come to Kelsey’s public defense, but not all narcissists are without friends and family. Some of those around her may truly believe her words of how amazing she is and how wonderful her story is. One local radio announcer, even after all that has come out about Kelsey, still declared that he wanted to date her when she was eliminated from the show right before Valentine’s Day.
From my perspective, however, Kelsey is another woman who likely has a mental illness and whose narcissism was used to generate ratings. She even merited her own special segment (and part 2) in the “Chris Tells All” special where her surprise about being controversial (at 1:33) may or may not have been genuine. More likely, she’s a woman who loves being the center of attention and loves the extra time in the spotlight this controversy gave her. She often talks around her issues and has perfect explanations for her actions, even using her famous “big words” to specifically deny her narcissism. Kelsey's dramatic panic attack, whether true or fake, could also be interpreted as a narcissist’s attempt to gain more attention.
If Kelsey does have narcissistic personality disorder, then I don’t’ believe ABC should have been using her mental illness to boost ratings. While I often find it hard to sympathize with people who have NPD because of their self-centeredness and their incredible ability to see themselves as innocent victims, NPD is still a mental illness. Those who have it deserve compassion and understanding, not ridicule.
Furthermore, mental illness is not being “bonkers” as one bachelorette poorly described one of her mentally ill housemates this season. ABC and The Bachelor’s lack of respect for mental illness this season has been disturbing, especially when it was used as part of the sensationalism for a reality tv show. To me, it not only demonstrates a lack of compassion, but it feels inappropriate and even unethical. I wish that ABC and The Bachelor were doing more to help change our society’s negative views to mental illness rather than compounding the problems. I’m nervous for tonight’s “Women Tell All” special. I hope that Ashely S. in particular is treated with the respect she deserves as a human being facing some difficult challenges.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC