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'The Bachelorette' Is Reducing the Stigma Around Men's Mental Health

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The “Bachelor” franchise may be best known for its champagne-fueled drama, competition to earn roses, and in-house infighting, but despite its reliance on spats between contestants, it has helped reduce the stigma surrounding men’s mental health. The past few seasons of “The Bachelorette” — the iteration of the franchise in which men try to fall in love with a female lead — have been especially instrumental in showcasing open, honest conversations about mental health between men and their partners.

The shift from slightly raunchy reality TV to vulnerable depiction of men’s mental health has only emerged in the past two years, but the promising reactions to such open conversations suggest that the show will continue to air discussions about mental health and mental illness. On the 16th season of “Bachelorette,” which aired in the summer of 2020, contestant Ben Smith, a war veteran, opened up about his history of bulimia, depression, and suicide attempts during a date with then-bachelorette Tayshia Adams. Smith candidly revealed, “I was completely lost. My life was very dark, and I didn’t know how to say that I needed things.” Adams listened intently, reminding Ben that she saw and heard him before offering him a coveted rose at the end of the date — ensuring he would stay on the show for another week.

Smith’s ongoing candor about his mental struggles garnered plenty of media attention praising him for opening up about his history of depression and eating disorders and contemplating whether “Bachelor” was on the edge of a cultural shift towards reducing the stigma around men’s mental health. Fortunately, the “Bachelorette” seasons following Adams’s season have aired multiple conversations in which male contestants discuss mental health with their respective bachelorettes.

“Bachelorette” season 18 — which saw grade school teacher Michelle Young as the lead — featured a vulnerable conversation between Young and contestant Joe Coleman about how a sports injury affected Coleman’s mental health. Joe shared that his dreams of playing professional basketball were cut short after a serious toe injury permanently sidelined him, and he went on to share that he battled depression after he was told he could no longer play the sport he loved. Like Adams, Michelle Young responded empathetically, which kept social media abuzz with praise for Coleman’s openness about his mental health. “I respect Joe so much for his story and openness on what he [went through],” one viewer tweeted while watching the episode.

The present season of “The Bachelorette” has also not shied away from contestants discussing mental health with the two current co-bachelorettes, ICU nurse Gabby Windey and pilot Rachel Recchia. Contestant Jason Alabaster opened up to Windey about his feelings of inadequacy as a child and how going to therapy as an adult helped remind him that he “[has his] power again.” Another contestant, Johnny DePhillipo, explained to Windey why he feels “guarded,” lacks “serious confidence,” and struggles with depression — which prompted Gabby to open up about her own depression and anxiety. And Zach Shallcross, one of bachelorette Recchia’s contestants, shared with Rachel that going to therapy helped him find self-love. Recchia responded by telling Shallcross that therapy is “one of [her] favorite parts of the week.”

“The Bachelorette” has not always been so focused on men’s mental health. Season after season of fist fights between the contestants, badmouthing other men who “aren’t there for the right reasons,” and contestants speaking poorly of past bachelorettes has seemingly made “The Bachelorette” an exemplar of male violence rather than men’s health and wellness. Although there is still plenty of drama, however, “Bachelorette” has shifted away from highlighting aggression and is moving towards a new frontier — openly sharing that men can struggle with self-confidence, self-love, and mental illness and revealing how its male contestants have made significant life changes and grown as people. The reality TV show has lost none of the eye-catching drama on which it bills itself but in airing its contestants discussing their mental health with the show’s leads has managed to make its contestants undeniably real, raw, and relatable in a way viewers may never have thought possible several years ago.

“The Bachelorette” may not yet be associated with open, realistic mental health conversations, but its recent emphasis on men’s mental health may help male viewers feel more comfortable opening up to their own partners about their daily mental health struggles and long-term battles with mental illness alike. Showing men openly discussing mental health with their partners is a groundbreaking step towards reducing the mental health stigma for men — and for that, it deserves a rose.

Getty image by kieferpix

Originally published: August 30, 2022
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