It’s all The Rage! – Trivialisation of mental health issues is so ‘in’ this season


63555This week has highlighted mental health, and not in a good way. Both ASDA and Tesco have withdrawn costumes from their Halloween selection. The ‘Mental Patient’ and ‘Psycho Ward Patient’ outfits showed a colossal insensitivity to the 1 in 4 people in the UK who are affected by mental illness at some time in their life (source – Rethink)

Sue Baker, Director of Time to Change, England’s biggest anti-stigma campaign, says:

Asda and Tesco have shown themselves to be extremely misguided with their ‘mental health patient’ and ‘psycho ward’ fancy dress costumes. It is staggeringly offensive to the one in four of us affected by mental health problems and our families and friends, and troubling that some businesses are still so out of touch with the public mood.

However, it is encouraging to see the groundswell of outcry on Twitter and that our voices are being heard.  We hope this will urge Asda, Tesco and other retailers and manufacturers to review their processes and consider taste and decency on mental health grounds, to avoid fuelling stigma and discrimination that are so damaging for large numbers of the population.

The outcry she is talking about is the #Mentalpatient campaign, by mental health charity Time To Change. People who suffer from mental illness have been photographing themselves in their usual clothes and tagging themselves in an effort to remind everybody that poor mental health is, essentially, an invisible problem.

While occasionally a campaign like this can bring the real face of mental health to the fore, it’s still an uphill struggle against a media who perpetrate the stigma attached to these illnesses. For example, The Daily Mail recently ran a piece describing bipolar disorder as a celebrity ‘must have’. Similarly a study by Time To Change found that – 63% of references to mental health in TV soaps and drama were “pejorative, flippant or unsympathetic” terms included: “crackpot”, “a sad little psycho”, “basket case” , “where did you get her from?”, “Care in the Community?” and “he was looney tunes”

The fact is, that 9 out of 10 people suffering from mental illness have faced discrimination at some point. Just let that sink in for a while. That means that of the entire UK population, approximately 14,300,000 people (22% of the population) are discriminated on the basis of their mental health alone.

A large part of that discrimination occurs at work. Both by the sufferer being ridiculed and ostracised by their colleagues, or by their condition being seen as a barrier to promotion and even employment.

This is clearly a nonsensical way for anybody to behave. After all a quick search of the internet brings up a dazzling array of exceptional people who also suffered from mental illness. For example, who wouldn’t employ or promote people like Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Charles Dickens, George Best, Kylie Minogue, Princess Diana, Stephen Fry, or Winston Churchill?

Don’t get me wrong, having mental illness doesn’t necessarily make you an exceptional person, but neither does it necessarily prevent you from being exceptional.

I would like to think that in a high pressure, high stress industry like construction (stress being a type of mental illness) that attitudes towards sufferers would be more accepting. Imagine being picked on for being under stress! Go out there and show everyone that when it comes to knowing what sufferers of mental illness are going through, you almost certainly have a head start.

Chrissi couldn’t write the blog this week (she’s busy training people in far-away Derbyshire this week). My name is Matt, and I’m not only the Training Manager for Constructing Equality Ltd, but also the person who sends out all of our Tweets and so-forth.

(Matt is diagnosed with both bipolar and anxiety).