PTSD And Panic Attacks: We Need To Talk More About The Dark Side Of Appearing On Strictly

Rachel Riley was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following her time on Strictly Come Dancing - why aren't we talking more about the psychological impact of appearing on the show?

Strictly Come Dancing Rachel Riley

by Beth Ashley |

Countdown’s presenter and resident mathematician Rachel Riley has spoken out about her time competing on Strictly Come Dancing, as the show currently airs its nineteenth season.

Riley competed on Strictly Come Dancing in 2013, leaving in week six of the show, with her dancing partner and now husband, Pasha Kovalev. But despite gaining a romance, she revealed that her participation on the show resulted in some psychological complications.

Speaking to OK Magazine, she said she struggled with her mental health because of the show, resulting in her being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

She said that, to protect herself, she will never watch Strictly again. ‘I needed cognitive behavioural therapy after competing in 2013 and developed post-traumatic stress disorder. If I heard the theme music, I'd start reliving the experience. It was scary and unnerving, so my way of dealing with it is to avoid watching it,’ she added.

Riley is not the only former contestant who has opened up about how the pressures of Strictly affected their mental health.

Earlier this week, Nina Wadia – who was the first celebrity voted off this year’s series – revealed she struggled after her unexpectedly early exit.

Speaking to the podcast Lads, Dads And A Couple Of Beers, the former EastEnders star said: ‘It was all very surreal for me, and when I came out I was very down. My mental health, I’ve got to tell... I was down. That was from a lot of different feelings. There was a feeling of embarrassment coming out as early as I did, there was a feeling of, ‘did I let people down, did I let myself down?’. All these questions going on in my head.”

Tilly Ramsay, who is also competing on this year’s season, faced struggles after LBC presenter Keith Allen reviewed a recent episode and made comments about her appearance and her weight.

Though Strictly Come Dancing might seem all sequins and foxtrots, it’s common for reality TV stars to suffer from psychological distress. Even the world’s most wholesome show, The Great British Bake Off, has resulted in participants struggling.

In 2019, James Acaster had a stressful time on an episode of GBBO and served his bake with the phrase ‘started making it, had a breakdown, bon appetite!’

This scene quickly became memefied, with posts mocking the situation circulating social media platforms. But last year, Acaster released his stand up show Cold Lasagne Hate Myself, in which he revealed the ‘breakdown’ he mentioned was entirely real. Acaster suffered a panic attack due to the stress of the show and even had to call the Samaritans - telling them he’d got a new job as a baker that was causing him distress so he wouldn’t give away his identity.

Maybe the stress of participating in reality competition shows as a celebrity is traumatic due to mismanaged expectations, or maybe there’s more the producers could be doing to spot behaviours that need invention in their participants, and generally make the set a more wholesome environment. After all, ‘wholesome’ is what the viewers are expecting when they flick onto Bake Off, Strictly, or any other British competition show.

Riley didn’t pinpoint any specific reason for difficulties, she said she tells her friends not to compete on the show. ‘I advise friends not to go on the show and I know people who have dropped out of it due to the mental pressures involved.’

Though her trauma was understandably difficult to work through, Riley did say she will be forever grateful to Strictly for introducing her to Kovalev, saying: ‘Mind you, if I hadn't competed, I wouldn't have met Pasha.’

‘When it was announced that he was going to be my dance partner, all the dancers and crew congratulated me because everybody loved him. He's brilliant. And when you need a bit of support, that's when you know you're with the right person.’

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