Thursday, 26 September 2013

mental patients and psycho wards are still with us - so much for anti-stigma campaigns

Today on Facebook I heard about the Psycho Ward and Mental Patient fancy dress costumes on sale by Tesco, Asda and Amazon that have been causing a stir.  It seems that despite the millions poured in to anti-stigma campaigns the mentally ill are still seen as psychos and mental.

Asda has removed their mental patient costume, a BBC article 'Asda 'mental patient' costume withdrawn from sale online' quote:

"Following criticism, including from one "stunned" mental health charity, the store offered "sincere apologies for the offence it has caused". It would be making a "very sizeable donation" to mental health charity Mind, Asda added.  In a statement on Wednesday evening, Asda, which is owned by US retail giant Walmart, said the sale had been a "completely unacceptable error"."

Just noticed that Tesco and Amazon have now removed the Psycho Ward costumes.  However I'm not shocked or horrified by the costumes.  I think they highlight the fact that stigma and discrimination in mental health terms is very much alive and kicking.

And I suspect that the costumes were selling well.  Because the reality for those of us experiencing mental distress or a psychosis is that we are labelled in the psychiatric notes, indelibly, with no scientific proof of any disease.  Lifelong mental illness.  Well I never believed a word of it.

So if I see any folk in psycho ward or mental patient costumes at Halloween I'll just have a laugh to myself.  Because it's far scarier to be detained in a psychiatric ward and forced to take psychiatric drugs against your will.  

To then have schizoaffective disorder written in your medical notes and "family history of ..." written in the notes of your sons if they happen to experience mental distress and have to engage with psychiatry.


  1. Chrys, I agree that stigma and discrimination still exist but think that for me, this means that we need to support the mental health charities and current anti-stigma campaigns even more. On the positive side, the outpouring of energy through people sharing their own images of what they wear as 'mental patients' was very noticeable on twitter yesterday. Finally, it seemed that the various campaigns had a clear and undeniable example that we could all rally against. Usually, stigma and discrimination (as we are painfully aware) is either more subtle and hard to challenge or hides behind the legitimacy of practicisng medical staff. Best wishes

    1. Philip thanks for commenting. I agree that stigma and discrimination can be subtle and hard to challenge, at times. However the most I have experienced is within psychiatry itself and not society. I say this as a survivor of mental illness and psychiatric treatment, and having supported many family members through the psychiatric system.

      I believe that anti-stigma campaign organisations reinforce stigma in their embrace of psychiatric labels and targeting of society. It's psychiatry that needs a paradigm shift, a major move away from the biomedical model of mental illness, lifelong prognoses and disabling psychiatric drugs. In my opinion.

      Society is you and me, communities and neighbourhoods. Psychiatry is them, along with government, the seats of power. Therefore anti-stigma campaigns should be directed at psychiatry. But they are funded by government to the tune of millions. And he who pays the piper calls the tune.

    2. Love the blogosphere Chrys, and I hear what you're saying.

      The paradigm shift is needed - but my humble opinion is that this is the case with many academic disciplines and many practical areas of day to day life. Our criticisms really need to be in line with what is positive and sustainable in our communities, neighbourhoods and cities- and I'm not saying that yours aren't.

      I hope you can forgive me, for although I embrace many aspects of anti-, critical- and alternative psychiatry I can't help but think that for survivors like myself too, there are certain things I will not be able to alter in my own lifetime. Therefore, working with an explicit knowledge of what a psychiatrist says and even by knowing something of how that came to be the case from around the 19th century ( my question now is not whether psychiatric labels are true or false, but is: how can we explain more convincingly not just the flaws in the biomedical model but also the positive life alternatives or tweaks which people can embrace for themselves?

      The forms of psychiatric categories for me sadly have partial validity and I take the awkward and painful position of trying to reduce my own dependence on their drugs whilst trying to extend knowledge of what it is that I may do to alter a top down society which values psychiatrists and central governments so highly.

      I know that power lies with government psychiatrists in relation to us but I believe, for my 'sins', that the way forward for myself lies in trying to delve deeper into their own unstable categories or labels whilst investigating postive alternatives to ways of living each day at the same time. Perhaps only by engaging with what they say will they ever listen?

      Kind regards

    3. Aye Philip and I do engage with psychiatry and psychiatrists. On my own terms, drug free, having had to do so also on my own. Maybe it was easier for me to get out from under because I never believed a word of it? Therefore it had no power over me. Not sure. But I only know that I had to escape the drugging, didn't like it at all. I'd rather feel the pain.

      I'm not challenging systems to alter society. I've been a community development worker for over 30yrs, lots of it voluntary, with people in groups, individually, setting up projects, moving on to do the same somewhere else. I only got up to my neck in mental health world stuff in 2008 proper, aged 55, having resisted it for many a year. The peer movement reeled me in. Human rights, equal opportunities, standing with a person, recovery etc. Five years later, the peer support in Scotland has been assimilated to a great extent and now I'm a writer, activist and campaigner. Wasn't planned. But hey ho, that's how life goes.

      However if you've found a useful way of making sense of it, engaging with psychiatry while also looking for alternatives then go for it. Each of us to our own. Thanks for your blog link, I'll have a read through, Chrys