As Halloween draws closer, we are used to seeing witches, vampires and ghost costumes in shops everywhere. This year however, you may get more than that.
Look to the Asda website and you will see a truly horrific costume...
They call it the mental patient costume and just underneath the photo, you will read this:
"Everyone will be running away from you in fear in this mental patient fancy dress costume. Comprising of a torn blood stained shirt, blood stained plastic meat cleaver and gory facemask it's a terrifying Halloween option."
Now I'm not sure about you, but this disgusts me. Having worked in and around mental health services and charities for many years now, we have had enough of a battle trying to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental illness.
It has been hugely successful to date, though we still have a way to go to change the perception of mental illness in the larger domain. I was really pleased to see the onslaught of comments to Asda on Twitter, shaming them for this insensitive, ludicrous portrayal of mental illness.
The painted on straightjacket, meat cleaver and the blood spatter is iconic of everything wrong with the way mental illness is sometimes viewed. It takes us back to all the films that portrayed violent acts in asylums, all the way to the present day when the media are all to quick to say "that person committed a violent crime, they must have had a mental health problem".
The reality is, this couldn't be any further from the truth. For a start, those with mental health problems are more likely to harm themselves than other people and are actually more often the target of violence, not the perpetrator. You would be more likely to be seriously assaulted by someone drunk outside a pub.
There may be people out there thinking, "it's only a costume". For me, it signifies much more than that. It shows me the distorted view that many people still hold of people with mental health difficulties, the barriers people with mental health problems face when being out in the community and the truly sickening position that a brand thinks they can profit from this dangerous perception.
One of the key words I pulled out of their description was the word fear. It's a very strong word and unfortunately, one that is very much still attached to mental illness. People have been taught for a long time that it is something to be scared of, that people with schizophrenia are dangerous, or have two personalities!
We forget that it isn't something we can see, that people who suffer from mental illness don't actually walk around the street with a meat cleaver covered in blood. They are the one in every four of us that suffer a mental health problem at some point in our lives.
Take it from the view of a person with a mental illness. By portraying our understanding of mental health with something like this, we are further marginalising what is already a vulnerable group. I am not just talking about this costume, however distasteful it is, but the all too jaded impression in far too many places. By creating a world intolerant of people with mental health issues, we prevent access to treatment, prevent people from opening up and create a culture where mental illness is a hidden evil.
As I said before, we have a long way to go to create a community truly accepting of people with mental health issues and things like this don't do the cause any favours. If a company was to make a costume mocking a physical condition, everyone would be in turmoil and this product would be already off the shelf.
So why do they think it is ok to mock those with a mental illness?
I urge everyone reading this to complain to Asda about this not only distasteful but harmful and insulting product as it should be taken from the shelves, for good.
Let's all go back to being witches and vampires.