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What has the Teen Mom empire done to the young women it profits from?

Chances are you’ve watched an episode or two of Teen Mom. The popular MTV reality show has been guilty-pleasure viewing for millions of viewers in the US and here in Australia since it first aired in 2009.

Developed out of TV stations producers’ attempts to capitalise on the popularity of prequel-of-sorts 16 and Pregnant, the first series followed the lives of Farrah Abraham, Maci Bookout, Catelynn Lowell, and Amber Portwood – who had all fallen pregnant as teenagers. Later, the show introduced new teen moms, in spin-off series Teen Moms 2 and 3. 

We watched as the girls – because they were still girls – faced the ups and downs of parenting in the first few years of motherhood and struggled with relationships, work and homelife.

Catelynn Lowell, Farrah Abraham and Valerie Fairman. (Image via Getty.)

The producers exposed the rawest, and sometimes darkest, moments of these girls' lives and served it up as entertainment, without, it seemed, a second thought to the wellbeing of its stars.

And it's these girls who have ultimately paid the price for it.

Just this week we learned original series star Catelynn Lowell is seeking treatment after experiencing suicidal thoughts.

"Well today I thought of every way to kill myself... so I'm going to treatment," she told her 1.3 million Twitter followers on Saturday.

Lowell is far from the only Teen Mom participant who has gone on to face serious struggles outside of the show.

Fellow original cast-member Amber Portwood lost primary custody of her daughter Leah in 2011 to her ex Gary Shirley, whom she also faced charges for assaulting. Later that year, she was arrested for drug possession and after failing to complete court-ordered rehab was jailed in June 2012, serving time until her November 2013 release.

Following the sixth season finale and reunion show in 2016, Portwood claimed in a series of tweets she had been treated disrespectfully.

"Nothing has been dealt with or has made me feel any safer to even move on with people who have continuously hidden things from the network. The day I'm shown some respect by the people I've worked with for eight years is the day I'll be back. I've sacrificed a lot for this show."

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However, she subsequently returned for the seventh season that aired in 2017.

Meanwhile, Teen Mom 2 star Jenelle Eason (nee Evans) also lost custody of her son, Jace, to her mum Barbara, whom she has an ongoing dispute with.

Eason and her then-boyfriend Kieffer Delp, were arrested in October 2010 for breaking and entering and drug possession, with charges eventually dropped after she completed 24 hours of community service. She was arrested a further four times in March 2011 for assault, in August that year for violating her parole by testing positive to marijuana and opiates, in 2012 for allegedly making threatening calls and later for violating a domestic violence protection order.

In 2011, she also checked herself into a rehab centre in Malibu, California. Eason has also been forced to deny her husband David Eason abuses her son Kaiser after reports surfaced in local media.

Valerie Fairman, who featured in a series of 16 and Pregnant, died as a result of her drug addiction aged just 23. The mum to Naveah overdosed in December 2016. Valerie's adoptive mum Janice Fairman told the Daily Mail she thought her daughter would still be alive if she hadn't featured on the show.

"She was a gorgeous girl and it all went to her head," Fairman said. "She thought she could pretty much do whatever she liked after the show. She was determined to get everything she wanted.

"I wish she had never been on TV. It played a big part in her death. I think it messed her up big time.

"When we tried to put our foot down, that's when she left home. I don't think there is anything more we could have done to help her."

Listen: Laura has noticed a problem with teen shows...

Aside from jail time, addiction and depression, there are women like Farrah Abraham on the periphery - who have made careers in the porn industry, and sought out numerous face-altering plastic surgeries in their 20s.

Of course, that's not to say all of the girls' lives were ruined by the show - Maci McKinney (nee Bookout) for one, is by all accounts happily married with three kids - or even to say that it is the show that ruined their lives at all.

But there is no denying that putting young, vulnerable women in the spotlight has come at an extremely steep cost: their welfare. In too many cases, we've seen young women unravel at an alarming rate.

At least that's the way it looks from the outside.

The producers are there when the mums have arguments with their partners and parents or suffer disappointments in their career or personal life - because it makes great viewing. However, when cameras are switched off and the crew goes home, was anything being done to help the young women with their very real struggles? It seems that if support was offered, it fell woefully short of what was required.

We can't know psychologically, what having the worst moments of your young life filmed and broadcast to audiences around the globe for "entertainment" does to a person.

But by taking one look at Teen Mom's legacy, we can only assume it can't be good.

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