26 Sep 2013

Mental patients tweet outfits in riposte to Asda & Tesco

As Asda and Tesco apologise for selling “mental patient” and “psycho ward” outfits, mental health patients hit back online by tweeting pictures of themselves to challenge stereotypes.

Asda and Tesco both withdrew the outfits after charities warned that they reinforced the stigma and discrimination towards patients.

Supermarket Asda said it would make a £25,000 donation to the mental health charity Mind.

The Halloween costume, which is designed to look like a blood-splattered straitjacket with ragged edges, was on sale for £20 through the supermarket’s clothing arm George.

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A spokesman for the supermarket giant said: “This is a sincere gesture to apologise for the offence. We want to do this for the right reasons and not for publicity.”

Asda’s donation will be going to the Time to Change anti-stigma campaign run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

Asda’s apology was quickly followed by Tesco, who said it was “really sorry for any offence caused” by an adult bright orange costume called “psycho ward” with the word “committed” printed on the back.

The website description of the costume says: “Dress up as the most thrilling psycho killer character of all time in this Psycho Ward costume, consisting of a bright orange, long-sleeved boiler suit with zip fastener to front, ‘Psycho Ward’ printed on the chest.

“The same words (are) printed on the back in larger letters with a prominent ‘committed’ stamp just below.”

A Tesco spokeswoman said: “We’re really sorry for any offence this has caused and we are removing this product from sale.”

‘Stigma and discrimination’

Sue Baker, campaigner for mental health charity said: “It’s a welcome move that Asda has reacted promptly by apologising and offering the contribution to Time to Change, and we hope that Tesco and other retailers and manufacturers follow suit.

“However, what we really want to see is more proactive support for Time to Change by signing up to our programme and making a significant commitment to working with their staff and huge customer base to tackle mental health stigma and discrimination.

“We hope to continue this dialogue with Asda so we can work together to achieve this more meaningful contribution. We’ve seen organisations in almost all other sectors pledge to end stigma, but not major retailers – this is now the time for them to step up.”

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity SANE, said: “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.”

‘Breathtakingly insensitive’

Paul Jenkins, chief executive of the charity Rethink Mental Illness, said: “I am pleased to see Asda has now removed the costume from their website, but the fact it was ever there in the first place is completely unacceptable.

“This costume is breathtakingly insensitive, and it’s shocking that Asda ever felt it was an appropriate product to sell. There is already so much stigma surrounding mental illness, and ‘joke’ products like this only serve to make things worse.”

Many took to Twitter to express their disgust at the description former spin doctor Alistair Campbell, who has also suffered from the illness, wrote on the microblogging site: “Look what Asda’s selling… what possesses these people?”

Katie Dalton of Welsh mental health charity Gofal also wrote on Twitter: “Dear @asda, did you take 1 second to consider how it would affect the 1 in 4 people who experience mental health problems in any given year?

“Dear @asda, how on earth did you come to the conclusion that this is an appropriate fancy dress costume? Disgraceful.”

Mental health charity Mind also urged people to tweet their pictures to show the “real face of mental health.”