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Asda and Tesco withdraw Halloween patient outfits

  • 26 September 2013
  • From the section UK
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Asda product page
Image caption Asda offered its "sincere apologies" for the offence it caused

Supermarket chains Tesco and Asda have withdrawn two Halloween outfits after they were criticised for stigmatising people with mental health issues.

Asda dropped its "mental patient fancy dress costume", and Tesco later withdrew its "psycho ward" outfit.

Both stores apologised for any offence caused and agreed to make donations to the mental health charity, Mind.

The charity, which complained that such costumes "fuel" stigma, will receive £25,000 from Asda.

Tesco has not said how much it will donate.

The £20 Asda outfit included ragged clothing, fake blood, a mask and a fake meat cleaver while Tesco's orange boiler suit came with a plastic jaw restraint and offered to "complete the look" with a machete.

Online retailer Amazon had also advertised the "psycho ward" outfit, but later said the costume was "not available".

'Unacceptable error'

A Tesco spokesperson said: "We're really sorry for any offence this has caused and we are removing this product from sale."

In a statement on Wednesday evening, Asda, which is owned by US retail giant Walmart, said the sale had been a "completely unacceptable error".

"[The costume] should never have been sold and it was withdrawn as soon as it was brought to our attention."

Asda added: "We're deeply sorry one of our fancy dress costumes has upset people."

It is understood the costume had been on sale through Asda's clothing outlet George for two days, before being withdrawn from sale on Wednesday morning following a complaint from a customer.

Asda said the product had been removed from the website in the afternoon but the relevant page remained visible for a few hours.

It disappeared after the criticism on Twitter started to emerge.

An Asda spokeswoman confirmed £25,000 would be donated to Mind.

Meanwhile, online auction site eBay confirmed it had taken "immediate action" to remove items advertising similar costumes and apologised for any offence caused.

A spokesman said: "The listings are being assessed and removed and no future listings of this nature will be allowed."

Image caption Tesco had offered a "psycho ward" costume online

Former Downing Street director of communications Alastair Campbell, who has written about his experiences with mental health issues, branded their sale by established companies as "unacceptable"

Speaking to BBC London, he said: "We are trying to change attitudes towards mental illness so people do not stigmatise it and something like this comes along and it just reminds you we are basically still in the Dark Ages.

"We are still in the Dark Ages if some of the biggest companies in this country, Tesco, Asda and Amazon think that it's acceptable to sell something like this."

Elsewhere, Katie Dalton, of Welsh mental health charity Gofal, wrote on Twitter: "Dear @asda, how on earth did you come to the conclusion that this is an appropriate fancy dress costume? Disgraceful."

Former footballer Stan Collymore, who has had a well-documented battle with depression, also criticised Asda for using a "stereotype".

"Do you actually realise how many people are hanging themselves because of being frightened of the stigma?" he tweeted.

The charity Rethink Mental Illness also took to Twitter to say it was "stunned" by the costume's description, but later thanked Asda "for responding" to the "concerns".

'Terrifying Halloween option'

Sue Baker from Mind told BBC Radio 5 live that the worst thing about the costume was it reinforced outdated stigma about people with mental health illness.

"Some of the worst myths that fuel this stigma is the assumption that we're going to be dangerous, knife-wielding maniacs and that is simply not the case."

She added: "The stigma can be life-limiting and life-threatening because people don't think they can talk to anybody and sadly for some people they take the option of not being with us anymore."

The internet link to the website page where Asda's costume was being sold used the words "zombie fancy dress costume".

But the product was titled "mental patient fancy dress costume" on the page itself.

The product details read: "Everyone will be running away from you in fear in this mental patient fancy dress costume... it's a terrifying Halloween option."

Ms Baker had also called for Tesco and Amazon to withdraw the "Psycho Ward" outfit from their websites.

Neil Saunders, of retail research agency Conlumino, said such a "mistake in naming a product" was "inevitable" due to the huge number of items sold by major retailers.

Responding to news about the costumes, some Twitter users posted pictures of themselves in normal clothes, which one described as "my #mentalhealth outfit for the day".

Another tweeted: "@asda I'm a mental health patient. No I am not scary. You should not be selling a 'mental patient' outfit."

Dr Simon Williams, from Northwest University, Chicago, said: "This scandal might be a blessing in disguise because it is bringing issues of stigma in mental health to public scrutiny.

"This is a great and positive response by individuals and by mental health charities, which will help increase awareness of stigmatisation."

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