Published On: Mon, Mar 18th, 2019

Mike Thalassitis death: 'Love Island has got to open its eyes to this'

“Love Island portrayed him to be this character of Muggy Mike. He wasn’t – he was a proper gentleman.”

That’s how Mario Falcone, who was in The Only Way is Essex, describes Mike Thalassitis, who died aged 26.

The 2017 Love Island contestant was found hanged in a park in north London on Saturday morning, police say.

Officers are not treating his death as suspicious.

“He was a really nice guy. I warmed to him – he always reminded me of a younger version of myself,” Mario tells Newsbeat.

“I spoke to him quite a few times recently and he said he was struggling. But he said he was doing better.”

If you need help with any of the issues mentioned in this article, go to BBC Advice.

‘There’s a stigma, especially with men’

“I don’t think the ‘Muggy Mike’ status was anything that really bothered him,” says Mario.

“On social media there were a lot of things being said that were a lot stronger than ‘Muggy Mike’.”

But Mario says coming out of a reality TV show can be difficult – especially if there isn’t a support network around you.

“You’ve gone from being a normal guy, to a celebrity to a ‘guy that was on that show’ – within the space of six months to a year.

“That’s a lot to deal with.”

He adds: “There is a stigma, especially with men, that you’re meant to be OK, so you don’t want to talk about it. “

Mario has been open about his mental health in the past, and has spoken about trying to take his own life in 2013.

“I tried to take an overdose. I woke up the next morning and was violently sick. That was a wake-up call for me.”

He adds: “After seeing a specialist it really helped, [but] it’s not something that goes away.”

‘Love Island have got to look at how they treat their stars’

But Mario also says that reality TV shows sometimes don’t do enough to help ex-contestants.

“Love Island have got to open their eyes to this.

“They’ve got to look at themselves and the way they treat their stars.”

Love Island contestant Sophie Gradon, who was on the 2016 series, was found dead in her home in June 2018.

At the time, her friend and fellow Love Islander Malin Andersson told Newsbeat that more aftercare needs to be provided from reality shows.

In a statement, Love Island broadcaster ITV said: “Care for our islanders is a process the show takes very seriously and is a continuous process for all those taking part in the show.

“We ensure that all of our contributors are able to access psychological support before, during and after appearing on the show. The programme will always provide ongoing support when needed and where appropriate.

“We also discuss at length with all of our islanders, before and after the show, how their lives might change and they have access to support and advice to help with this.”

In a separate statement given on Saturday, ITV said: “Everyone at ITV2 and Love Island are shocked and saddened by this terrible news.

“Our thoughts and deepest condolences are with Mike’s family and friends at this very sad time.”

Behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings, who has worked on reality shows including Big Brother, says that more needs to be done by the TV producers.

Last summer, after the death of Sophie Gradon, she told Newsbeat: “A show is not finished when you stop broadcasting.

“Those feelings go way beyond filming and production companies need to make sure their contributors are looked after.”

‘Everyone forgets’

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But Mario isn’t convinced that things will change.

“In two weeks’ time, this will be old news. Everyone forgets.”

He says other reality stars he’s spoken to “feel like puppets”.

He adds: “As soon as they’ve finished filming, and the producers are done with them – that’s it. You’re on your own.”

Mario says the shared experience that a lot of reality stars go through helps create a bond between them because of the way they are treated.

“You feel a certain protection. That’s why the reality world comes together for something like this.

“Whether it’s Towie, Made in Chelsea, Geordie Shore – all these massive shows.

“It’s very much the same behind the scenes with the producers.

“That’s why we all support each other. We know and we understand.”

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Mike Thalassitis death: 'Love Island has got to open its eyes to this'