How a ‘mental patient’ fancy dress costume can be a force for good

First published by Time to Change

I’m really glad Asda and Tesco stocked those ‘mental patient’ and ‘psycho ward’ fancy dress outfits.

Let me explain myself. I like horror films, but that’s not the reason I’m glad. I like fancy dress, but that’s not the reason either. I like a laugh, and Halloween costumes are meant to be funny as well as scary, aren’t they? But that’s not the reason either.

No, I’m glad those outfits were made and sold for one reason – they have made a lot of people angry. And when that many people get angry about something, things change. People speak out, loudly and publicly. Their views get into the mainstream media. And suddenly, there is a powerful movement in society, united in anger and in a desire for change.

Things have changed today. Tesco and Asda have acted and removed the products from stock. How did they come to be stocked in the first place? I don’t know. Who made and marketed the appalling things in the first place? I don’t know that either.

What I do know is that no amount of positive blogs about mental health or courageous spokespeople have the same impact as collective fury, and today that fury made two of the biggest names in British retail change their actions – and you can bet they won’t let it happen again in a hurry.

There’s unquestionably a stigma to mental illness that lives on and manifests in unlikely ways and places – like a Halloween costume. The outpouring of anger at these costumes is not the same thing as ‘political correctness gone mad’ or ‘not being able to take a joke’. It’s a response to the belittling or stigmatising of people who are ill through no fault of their own. It’s an insult to one in four members of our population.

As someone who’s had counselling for depression and taken antidepressants for more than three years, I could be very upset about the demonization and stereotyping of people who need treatment for mental illness. But I’m not upset.

I’m glad that something high-profile and relatively easy to resolve has happened that shakes people up a bit and makes mental health a little bit easier for people to talk about.

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15 Comments on “How a ‘mental patient’ fancy dress costume can be a force for good”

  1. I’m currently in meltdown mode and have been ignoring the world so didn’t know about this until I read Mind’s post about it. Felt that as a blogger about depression I should really comment on it but to be honest don’t think I’ve got it in me at the moment and also in all honesty don’t really know what to say.

    I was incredibly shocked at first. Then I wondered if it was just the name of the costumes that are completely wrong – don’t think I’ve ever made the association with mental health patients and machetes for example. The best rated comments on Daily Mail online imply that everyone is getting a bit carried away which I sort of agree with too. Plus on a few occasions I’ve been in mental health environments (even only last week while waiting for therapy in the waiting room of the hospital) and have been asked by patients if I’m a nurse. Even patients themselves sometimes seem to think that people with mental health issues should look a certain way.

    I definitely agree with this post though so at least if someone does ask me my opinion on this matter I will be able to say confidently ‘what Paul said.’

    • paulbrook76 says:

      Hi Stacey.
      Really sorry to hear you’re struggling.
      I nearly didn’t respond myself because so many other people were commenting, but I saw some were getting carried away and I thought ‘actually I do want to put my view across’.
      I agree that it’s the names that are the problem. ‘Zombie’ would be fine instead of ‘mental patient’.
      Hope you are much better very soon.
      Paul
      P.S. The joy of blogging is that only you get to decide what you write and when, so never feel you ought to write. Only do it when you want to.

  2. Dan says:

    Brilliant way to look at this. Totally healthy and helpful response for those of us with mental health problems. Thanks Paul!

  3. […] blog – How a ‘mental patient’ fancy dress costume can be a force for good, by Paul Brook (twitter @paulbrook76) (26th […]

  4. Sophie Gajewicz says:

    Really positive way of looking at this Paul, great blog! Soph x

  5. Such a great post, you’re so right. The anger that so many people expressed created that change, and wonderful that it went mainstream

  6. Excellent blog post. I suffer from depression myself and i have worked with people with a variety of mental health and/or learning disabilities over the years. This stereotyping and stigmatisation of people with mental health issues angers me massively so the public reaction to this asda n tesco incident really pleased me!
    I also felt it was a little overblown…it wasn’t the costume that was the problem but the name. I would have suggested zombie patient or something along those lines! I’m not overly p.c. myself about the terminology used to describe mental illness…I’m happy to refer to myself as ‘crazy’ etc. but would never like anyone to fear me as some kind of ax wielding maniac just because my brains gotten itself a bit screwy!
    So good for Asda and Tesco for putting things right and highlighting this issue. One worker who made a poor decision shouldn’t bring down the whole organisation.


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