CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses mental illness
Married at First Sight’s Natasha Spencer has revealed she was hospitalised with mental health concerns over the weekend following the fallout of the show’s final episodes last week.
The former bride lifted the lid on the reality of being on the TV show, a production she labelled ‘toxic’ and ‘disgusting’, saying she was left feeling ‘completely alone’.
“After the dinner party [aired] I actually got taken to the hospital under mental health Section 22,” Natasha tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
“I was held in fear that I was a harm to myself.”
Natasha was taken to hospital after police were called, involuntarily admitted under Section 22 of the Mental Health Act.
Section 22 involves a person law enforcement admitting an individual to a mental health facility for treatment without the need for their consent, out of fear they will do harm to themselves or others.
Natasha was taken to hospital on Friday following the online fallout of the explosive dinner party which aired on Tuesday.
She says it was ultimately a combination of factors that led to the emergency ward, but places the majority of the blame squarely on both the trolling she received and the show’s production.
“I had people telling me to ‘go neck myself’, I had death threats, I was called every name under the sun,” she says.
“It was a lack of sleep, a lot of abuse, a lot of pressure that just tipped me over the edge.”
“I felt totally alone. I never thought I would get to that point.”
The 26-year-old left the series and her ‘marriage’ to groom Mikey Pembroke early in the season, a move that shocked many fans, and that she can now confirm was due to her struggles with panic attacks during production.
She says the mental illness was a brand new experience for her, though she has experience with what she describes as ‘high-functioning anxiety’. This new, extreme form she associates explicitly with her time on the show.
“I have never ever had to be hospitalised or medicated,” she says. “I have never had anything like this happen. On the show I started having panic attacks which is why Endemol Shine sent me to Bali for a month.”
Endemol Shine is the production company behind Channel Nine’s MAFS and they sent Natasha overseas after her response to filming became too much to handle, and the decision was made to end the couple’s storyline.
‘Full-blown’ panic attack sends her packing
“One parent’s day I had a full-blown panic attack in the bathroom,” Natasha says, explaining this was the final moment that led to her deciding alongside production to leave the show.
Natasha says though the decision to allow her to leave because of her evident distress was initially comforting, a later decision left a truly bitter taste in her mouth.
Natasha claims that ultimately the audio recorded while she was breaking down in the bathroom was used in the episode that went to air.
“If you listen when I run out of the parent’s lunch the clip of audio is quite echoey,” she says. “And that’s because it was mid-panic attack of me in the toilet. So they decided to take the audio of my panic attack and play it over a different piece of footage.”
Natasha says nothing could have prepared her for the reality of the experience.
“I think they don’t give you enough warning I think they don’t give you enough information about the environment you’re coming into whatsoever,” she says, adding a strongly-worded call to have the show pulled from the air.
“I think [the experiment] is the most toxic disgusting thing to do to humans,” she says. “I hope that there will be enough talk that this thing finally gets taken off the air.”
Channel Nine responded to the criticism, saying they provide services and support to contestants on the show.
“Nine and Endemol Shine takes its obligations in respect to the health and wellbeing of the participants of this program extremely seriously,” a spokesperson told Yahoo Lifestyle.
“All participants have access to the show psychologist during filming, during the broadcast and once the program has ended.”
They have also added a new service for participants in need of further confidential support.
“This service gives participants access to psychologists who have been specifically engaged to support those involved in the program in relation to their experiences,” they say.
“This service is available to all participants for as long as they need it, it does not end.”
‘I’d love to see it taken off the air’
It’s a timely reminder of the potential impacts reality shows and the aftermath online can have on participants.
Natasha points to the ever-climbing number of former reality stars we have lost to suicide, most recently Love Island’s Caroline Flack, and says her own experience has compelled her to speak out for change.
“There've been [at least] 37 lives lost to reality TV and I think that the trolling and stuff is hard enough without undergoing the conditions and stuff that Married at First Sight adds,” she says.
“I’d love to see it taken off the air, they’re not there to help people find love. I don’t hear about a lot of other shows’ productions giving as many people as many problems.”
Natasha says she was ultimately ‘disappointed’ with the editing, which she feels was irresponsible, and contributed to the backlash.
“Endemol Shine has done this for [at least] four seasons,” she points out. “They know. They know how the editing is going to get people to respond so I thought it was really unfortunate that they chose to do that, and villanize people.”
Natasha also claims the contract contestants signed at the beginning admitted the possibility of editing being tweaked to advance storytelling.
“The first page of the contract that you sign says that Endemol Shine is allowed to edit you in whichever light they deem fit,” she claims, adding she did not feel taken care of by the network.
Natasha says she couldn’t care less anymore, explaining her own harrowing experience has shifted her perspective.
“I just want to be at peace,” she says.
“I’m battling so hard at the moment I don’t hate to give to anyone.”
Mental health support for yourself or a loved one can be found by calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, Mensline on 1300 789 978, or Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800. Online support is available via Beyond Blue.