Mental health stigma is not a new issue. What is new is how blatant it seems to have become of late.
Over recent months supermarkets Asda and Tesco both sold costumes for Halloween depicting the popular press’ vision of what a they believe a ‘mental patient’ looks like. The response to this on social media was phenomenal with lots of us within the service user movement posting pictures of ourselves on twitter showing that ‘This is what a mental patient looks like’, showing how fabulously boringly normal we all are.
Power to the people prevailed and the supermarkets withdrew these appallingly named costumes from sale.
Just as we all took a deep breath and allowed ourselves to think that the Halloween costumes were a one off it became apparent that we had misjudged how ingrained stigma is in our society.
Thorpe Park is one of the largest theme parks in the UK and yet again, still I’m the wake of the supermarkets costume publicity they still deemed it appropriate to promote a Halloween attraction called ‘The Asylum’ where visitors could be chased around a fictional psychiatric ward with a knife wielding maniac patient! By this point I can only describe how I felt as despair. My despair was directed towards our society en mass who accepted this as ok. I began to wonder why in these politically correct days where people fear being branded as sexist or racist this was felt acceptable? They would never promote a cancer ward attraction so why a mental health ward?
Lots of us within the service user movement put pressure on Thorpe park to re-think their ghastly choice of attraction and for days which dragged into weeks they had the audacity to defend themselves. At least the supermarkets had the good grace to hold their hands up and say they now realised why this was wrong and apologise. It’s was weeks later and after Halloween when Thorpe park relented. I can only imagine the conversations in their offices as the tweets and emails flooded in, did they really believe they were in the right?
Truth is they probably did think they were in the right but that their PR department just wasn’t as savvy as Asda and Tesco who by the fact their costumes got past so many buyers etc prior to being on the shop floor proves that culturally they had felt this was ok.
It took decades to move on from the racism of yesteryear and still people face it every day so I fear we have may years ahead of us of fighting the stigma around mental illness. I try to ‘do my bit’ by talking about my experiences, by normalising what a ‘mental patient’ looks like but even I am aware of when not to tell…