UK

Viewpoints: How offensive are 'psycho' patient costumes?

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

Supermarket chains Tesco and Asda have withdrawn Halloween outfits from sale after widespread criticism.

Asda's "mental patient fancy dress costume" is no longer available while Tesco followed suit by removing its "psycho ward" offering.

Asda said it would be making a £25,000 donation to mental health charity Mind as a result.

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

Below are a range of views on the "psycho" costumes.

Tesco had offered a "psycho ward" costume online

Sahil Oberoi tweeted: Its Halloween, it's a gimmick, is it really so outrageous? I think not but the PC brigade won't stop, ever.

Sarah Wollaton, a GP and the Conservative MP for Totnes, tweeted: #Tesco 'every little helps' to stigmatise mental health with their crass psycho outfits. Who approved them in the first place?

She added: Use of terms like 'psycho' perpetuate myth that ppl with mental illness are violent; far more likely to be victims than perpetrators.

John Barnes tweeted: I suffer from depression. I can also notice a difference between fantasy Halloween costumes and real life.

Jessica tweeted: ASDA - Seriously??? & TESCO. #BOYCOTT #INSENSITIVE :- Mental Health Issues DO NOT make you an axe wielding nut job in a straight jacket.

Tom tweeted: It just shows what kind of people are employed by a company in the first place when they think its okay to sell a 'mental patient' costume.

James tweeted: I've been a mental patient, and may be again 1 day, but I don't remember looking like that. Costume not offensive, description is.

Alex Munn tweeted: I wonder if all the people moaning about the Halloween costume, moan to all horror films to do with mental patients too?

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity SANE: We welcome Asda's withdrawal of the costume, which could only serve to reinforce prejudice and misperceptions of mental illness, leaving those already struggling with mental health problems more lonely and excluded.

Fancy dress company Escapade used a blog to explain why they still stock the items:

It is perhaps worth considering that the "Cell Block Psycho" and "Psycho Ward" costumes currently still available from Escapade are direct homages to the celebrated thriller film character, Hannibal Lecter. The association of psychiatric care hospitals being the origin (or final home) of a horror story's antagonist is a long running theme throughout film and the last century's literature, though of course this doesn't justify the perpetuation of an unjust stigma.

Our "psycho killer film" products are merely an extension of that films' own merchandising - its intention is not to promote the actions of its characters or the public reaction to them, but simply the piece of art itself. We offer a chance to dress up as a character, the choice of comment you make as the wearer is entirely your own.

Also on sale via our webstore are costumes that allow you to look like the victim of a serious injury, a prisoner, a number of different soldiers from different areas of the history and a great many other fancy dress themes that could, were you to construct a convincing enough angle on them, be construed as "offensive".

Lee tweeted: As someone who suffers from #BPD & various other issues I am amazed at the fuss over the harmless #ASDA #mentalpatient Halloween costume.

Ragodoll tweeted: I hear "mental patient", I think horror film. I hear "mental illness", I think compassion & treatment.

Dean Burnett, writing in the Guardian, said:

This isn't an example of some people taking unnecessary offence at a "harmless joke" (a genuine accusation I've received); it's taking issue with something that, for profit, suggests a large and often-mistreated subsection of the population are all bloodthirsty murderers.

Halloween costumes are a minefield of potentially offensive images if you want to dig hard enough, but then ghosts or cowboys don't make up a big chunk of modern society. And, worryingly, unlike those with mental health problems, ghosts don't have to deal with people telling them they're not real (because, unlike mental disabilities, they're not).

Shea Wong, on Channel 4 News, wrote:

I'm a mother. I'm a wife. I'm an MBA student. And yes, I have a mental health issue.

I understand business is business - for Halloween retailers, guys' costumes are gory, and girls' are sexy. That's the way it is. And I make the very clear distinction between dressing as a specific character from a specific film (for instance, Norman Bates from Psycho) and a general "crazy" costume.

But the fact is, if we peruse the racks at Asda, I bet we won't find a cancer victim costume, or a paraplegic costume, or an epileptic costume, and for good reason - treating an illness as a caricature is reprehensible. Yet, no one bats an eye when we do it to the mentally ill.

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