UK
29/10/2013 10:44 GMT

Thorpe Park Under Pressure To Rename Halloween 'Asylum Ride'

The Colossus rollercoaster at the theme park, Thorpe Parke
PA
The Colossus rollercoaster at the theme park, Thorpe Parke

Pressure is mounting on a theme park to change the name of its controversial 'Asylum' maze, which mental health campaigners say enforces stigma of mental illness.

More than 5,500 people have signed a petition to Thorpe Park since its Halloween attraction was announced, despite the maze having been a temporary attraction each year for the last eight years.

In a statement, when campaigners first took on the issue, a Thorpe Park spokeswoman said the negative comments were not "universally representative" and said no-one had complained.

"This is primarily a matter of context. The maze is not something you happen upon when out shopping," she said. "This maze is an obviously extreme and simulated experience which draws on classic horror film content.

"It is not intended, nor is it deemed to be by those who have actually experienced it, to be in any way offensive or to be a realistic portrayal of a mental health or indeed any other institution."

It is one of a number of campaigns to have emerged in recent weeks aimed at stamping out the stereotyping of mental illness, including one against the Sun newspaper for its headline "1,200 Killed By Mental Patients", published earlier this month.

And Tesco and Asda were forced to apologise publicly and make donations to mental health charities after a social media backlash over “Mental Patient” fancy dress costumes on their websites.

The petition was begun by student mental health nurse Katie Sutton on Change.org. "It's completely irresponsible that a brand as high profile as Thorpe Park would link mental illness with this kind of outdated nonsense," Sutton said.

"Thorpe Park has said that they haven’t received many complaints - so we’re taking the thousands of signatures to their door to show them how many people think the Asylum Maze must go.”

Mental health charity Mind, The Royal College of Psychiatrists, Time To Change, The Lancet Psychiatry, The Lancet and Rethink Mental Illness wrote an joint open letter to Thorpe Park on October 24 urging them to change its name and theme.

"Entertainments' such as Asylum perpetuate the myth that mental health problems are synonymous with dangerous, homicidal behaviour," it read.

"We, and many others, see Asylum as an embarrassment: by changing its name and theme it is possible to entertain the public without perpetuating harmful stereotypes."