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Vogue Portugal has pulled one of the controversial covers for its July/August ‘Madness Issue’ after a backlash from readers and mental health campaigners.
The cover, one of four shared as part of the magazine’s summer issue, showed a naked woman in a psychiatric hospital, hunched over and hugging herself while being washed by two nurses.
Following criticism from mental health experts and those with lived experience of mental illness – who said the cover trivialised mental health problems – the magazine initially defended its decision, prompting a second wave of anger.
But today it has revealed it will pull the cover completely and issued an apology.
In a statement posted on Instagram, it said: “On such an important issue such as mental health we cannot be divided. Vogue Portugal has taken the decision to pull one of the four covers of our July/August issue, which depicts a scene of a psychiatric hospital as well as the inside cover story based around the topic of mental health.
“Vogue Portugal deeply apologises for any offence or upset caused by this photo shoot. On reflection, we realise that the subject of mental health needs a more thoughtful approach. We sincerely apologise for this.”
Last week, journalist, author, and mental health campaigner, Poorna Bell, who lost her husband Rob to suicide five years ago, told HuffPost UK why the cover is “deeply problematic”.
“Not only does it trivialise mental health by calling it the ‘madness’ issue,” she said, “the image itself will be troubling and triggering to so many.”
The image perpetuates the stigma of psychiatric hospitals, said Bell. It also “dehumanises” anyone who has been – or needs to go – to hospital, she added, recalling a time when Rob, who was struggling with depression and addiction, went to a psychiatric hospital.
“The stigma around it was so great we didn’t feel able to tell anyone, and he felt deeply ashamed at needing to go to one – despite the fact that it was medical help he really needed,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to break down the stigma around it, and Vogue Portugal should be utterly ashamed of what they’ve done as it will reinforce all of that stigma.”
Molly King, a student mental health nurse who has previously been sectioned, said she was “disgusted” by the cover. “As a person with lived experience of mental illness and having spent nine months in hospital as a result, I found this cover beyond hurtful,” she told HuffPost UK.
“Mental illness isn’t a fashion trend, nor something to be glamorised. I want to know why they felt this was acceptable and what they were aiming to achieve by publishing such damaging content both through the images and terminology of ‘madness’.”
Jo Loughran, director of Time to Change, which is run by mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, said it was “disappointing” to see the outdated depiction of what looks to be a psychiatric hospital – especially on the cover of such a high-profile magazine.
“Mental health isn’t a fashion statement,” she said. “The shame and isolation that many of us with mental health problems experience is only made worse by imagery like this which fuels people’s lack of understanding.”
Useful websites and helplines
Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).