The Jeremy Kyle Show has been branded a “theatre of cruelty” following the apparent suicide of a man who appeared on the programme.
Experts have also urged ITV to drop the programme following the death and compared it to Romans setting lions on Christmas martyrs.
ITV pulled the confrontational talk show indefinitely following the death of a guest, named as 63-year-old Steve Dymond, a week after the programme was filmed.
Professor Sir Simon Wessely, former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the show should be dropped and Jeremy Kyle’s “help” stretches the meaning of the word to the limit.
He said powerful emotions of shame and guilt can lead to a breakdown and these psychological forces are amplified by the show’s large audience.
There have been calls for a review into the impact of reality TV on the mental health of vulnerable people and concerns have been raised over the damage caused by public “shaming”.
Professor Sir Simon said: “I think it should be dropped, actually. It’s the theatre of cruelty.
“And yes, it might entertain a million people a day, but then again so did Christians versus lions.
“Of course, the show will not be the only factor implicated. But like all social media, this show is an amplifying force, multiplier.
“Shame/guilt is a very powerful emotion and we know that it can precipitate a ‘breakdown’ to use the vernacular, just as with a family context or in a tight social group such as an army unit.
“So it’s not difficult to imagine that this is multiplied when the audience is a million.
“Plus, the idea that as the programme website says ‘Jeremy is here to help’ is stretching the verb ‘to help’ beyond any normal meaning of help, it’s almost an offence under the Trade Descriptions Act.”
Psychologist Honey Langcaster-James said The Jeremy Kyle Show focuses on vulnerable guests, usually thrust into situations of conflict.
She said this can cause guests distress and wants to see an end to the show and others that rely on humiliation.
Speaking about the deaths of former Love Island stars, the expert, who works in TV, said the stress put on guests in the Jeremy Kyle format is different to the more “game show” pressures of other reality TV shows.
Ms Langcaster-James said she turned down an offer to work on the show as she was uncomfortable with its approach.
She said producers’ lack of mental health knowledge can lead to inconsistencies in care across reality TV.
“I have had concerns over the years with The Jeremy Kyle Show, in particular its focus on quite vulnerable people,” Ms Langcaster-James said.
“It’s specific aim is to get people to air their disagreements in public, in general in a conflictual way, with quite a lot of shaming.
“That is hard for contributors to experience, that is a humiliation. I think shows like Jeremy Kyle are pretty stressful and can cause distress.”
She added: “Producers are not mental health professionals.”
ITV has launched a review into the episode featuring Mr Dymond and taken the show off air.
A spokeswoman for ITV explained the mental health approach to the show, saying: “Prior to the show a comprehensive assessment is carried out by the guest welfare team on all potential contributors.
“The guests are interviewed by guest welfare face-to-face at studios and prior to filming.
“Throughout filming the participants are supported by the guest welfare team.
“After filming has ended all guests are seen by a member of the guest welfare team.”
She added: “An evaluation of their needs is also carried out at this time and should they require any ongoing service regarding the problem they discussed on the show then appropriate solutions are found for them.
“The day after recording of the show the participant will be contacted by production to carry out a welfare check and provide details of the services that have been sourced for them.
“The production team keep in touch with the participants in the days between recording and transmission and participants are given a production mobile contact number should they need to contact the show at any point following transmission.”