When I first saw the 'mental patient' costume on Wednesday evening, coffee came spurting out of my nose. Not an attractive picture, apologies. I genuinely thought that the person who had sent me a screenshot had just put together something on Photoshop to try and wind me up. There is no way on this planet that one of the UK's biggest supermarkets would ever be that stupid, I thought to myself. Well, I was wrong.
For those of you who missed it all, let me briefly explain. George, at Asda, sells Halloween costumes. They sell the usual zombies, witches, vampires, pumpkins, and then one costume that has sparked an uproar; the mental patient costume. Complete with meat cleaver, what looks like a doctors coat (did the mental patient kill a doctor to get that?) and fake blood, this is one Halloween costume guaranteed to shock.
Image courtesy of Asda
A quick glance online shows that Tesco have also got a similar costume, this one named the 'psycho ward'. Think Hannibal Lecter in an orange jumpsuit, complete with whatever weapon it is deemed appropriate for the 'psycho' to carry. Amazon have a ton of different ones online too. Wonderful! Now you can choose which kind of psychopath or mental patient you'd like to be for Halloween.
What I want to know is how on earth did these costumes ever get past the numerous staff that surely must have seen them before they went into shops. There must have been an original idea, then they would have had to be designed, then they would have had to be made and quality checked, then they would have had to be seen by warehouse operatives, then a merchandiser who would actually decide where they would have gone in the shop, then an ecommerce manager who would have put them online and then thousands of staff who walk past them whilst carrying out their daily job. Did no one stop and think 'Hang on a minute, this is a bit... wrong?'
Let me put it into a different scenario, bear with me:
There's an idea to create a costume of a dead slave, probably one that used to work in the cotton farms all that time ago. He's hell-bent on revenge towards his slavers so he comes complete with a gruesome weapon. His costume would also consist of black face paint and some crooked teeth. Wait, wait a minute! No, sorry. We can't have this! It never even got past the 'ideas team' because it's racist, stereotyping and downright bloody stupid. Ah, hang on though... What about a mental patient? They're always carrying axes and killing people right?
Negative stereotypes and stigma are fought on a daily basis by organisations such as Minds Like Ours and Time to Change. It's a constant battle to prove that we're not all potential murderers, dangerous or violent. In fact, it's much more likely that people will be violent towards those with a mental health disorder, not the other way round. Because we are vulnerable.
Callum Carson, one of the directors at Minds Like Ours, put together a letter to Asda, which included the following excellent sentiments:
"We strongly believe that this product portrays people that suffer from mental health illnesses (roughly one-third of the population, and, therefore, roughly one-third of your customers) as crazy, knife-wielding maniacs. Clearly, this is not the case. 'Mental' people can function perfectly normally and lead average lives. We do not all end up in a straight-jacket and padded cell.
It beggars belief that such an idea could have been approved for sale by such a large company, where I can only assume each potential product must pass several stages before being sold in stores. The fact that not one person within this decision making process believed that such a product was insensitive portrays a worrying lack of awareness and common sense within your company. Will you be bringing out a cancer patient costume in time for Halloween? How would that be in any way more insensitive than this product?"
I know Asda have taken the costumes down from their shelves now, with a large donation to Mind, but there are still things that need to be done by them. I would suggest providing their staff with appropriate mental health awareness training, so that things like this can't slip through the net again. I think that's a suitable Asda Price to pay for the upset they have caused.