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Dark Side of Reality Television Spotlighted As Networks Struggle With Growing Number of Cast Suicides

 

The recent apparent suicide of a “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star’s husband is raising questions about the dangers of the instant fame and notoriety of reality television stars.

News broke Tuesday that “Real Housewife” Taylor Armstrong’s  estranged husband, investment banker and venture capitalist Russell Armstrong, was found dead in a friend's Mulholland Drive mansion, in what was believed to be a suicide.

The Bravo network, which airs the show, immediately issued a statement offering their condolences.

"All of us at Bravo are deeply saddened by this tragic news. Our sympathy and thoughts are with the Armstrong family at this difficult time," the network said in a statement Tuesday.

But sympathy aside, does the network bear any responsibility for Armstrong's tragic death?

“Reality TV can be very dangerous,” Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, MD, and author of “You Are Not Your Brain” told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column.” It's not an issue of media training, it's an issue of not having adequate education and support to deal with the high potential for feelings of shame when being exposed to the media spotlight.”

“Even celebrities have to learn that while life gets easier in some ways, it gets harder in other ways and there is a dark side to the glare of the spotlight. The combination of the disappointment that you're not happy with your new life combined with the new shame that is magnified by the public eye can literally make a lethal combination to someone who is psychologically vulnerable without the proper social and/or spiritual support,” Schwartz added.

In the weeks leading up to his death, Armstrong had indeed become the subject of tabloid fodder, which his lawyer claims led to his emotional troubles.

Last month, Taylor filed for divorce, accusing her former husband of physical abuse. His alleged “violent past” was also revealed by Radar Online two weeks ago, with an article claiming Armstrong also had two separate restraining orders filed against by him, one of which was filed by his ex-wife. He had also been charged with battery in 1997, to which he later pleaded guilty.

Tragically, Armstrong was hardly the first reality television star to take his own life.

Last year, Chef Joe Cerniglia, a 2007 “Kitchen Nightmares” participant jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge. Three years earlier Rachel Brown of "Hell's Kitchen" fatally shot herself, more than a year after competing in the Gordon Ramsay cooking competition.

Similarly, Cheryl Kosewicz, a former deputy District Attorney from Reno, killed herself soon after she was booted from CBS reality show "Pirate Master.” Boxer Najai Turpin also took his life just weeks before the series premiere of NBC's "The Contender."

Other shows like “Teen Mom,” “The Supernanny,” “American Idol” and “Paradise Hotel” have also had tragic connections to contestant deaths and suicide attempts.

One expert says the numbers are no coincidence and that reality show producers are purposely seeking people who are emotionally unstable.

“Many individuals who may otherwise be considered volatile and/or perhaps mentally unstable are often bubbled to the top of casting lists because of their potential to drive ratings,” explained Alec Shankman, former reality star talent agent and founder of the online casting agency, GotCast.com.

“It's not that instant fame drives people to do bad things, but rather some folks who are pre-disposed to doing bad things are unfortunately given instant fame and then the bad things they do are thrown into the spotlight,” he added.

Still, former “Real World” star Diem Brown says networks cannot be held responsible for what happens when the cameras start rolling.

“These reality people are not actors,” Brown told Tarts. “The things that happen in their lives are not scripted, so when life starts to throw curve balls and hardships at them, the pressure to keep it together while the world watches and comments is intense.”

Still, as viewers wait to see how Bravo will handle the suicide in upcoming seasons of the show, Schwartz argues that the network can turn the tragedy into an important lesson

“It would be in extremely poor taste (for the show to heavily feature Taylor in the upcoming season.) However, if Bravo is willing to present themselves as not having fulfilled their responsibilities and making it more about how they could have done things differently, and prevention, then it could potentially be beneficial,” Dr. Schwartz added. “It could even become a learning experience.”

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