“Spooky Halloween brings out best online campaigning”
By NCVC Staff | Published on Oct 11, 2023
Last night, the online world witnessed an egregious example of stigma that sent shockwaves through the mental health community. Retailers like George (Asda’s clothing line) had the audacity to stock Halloween costumes that perpetuated harmful stereotypes of individuals with mental health conditions. These outfits, labeled as “mental patient” or “psycho ward” costumes, were not only offensive but also regressive, going against the progress we thought we had made.
Asda’s costume, described as a terrifying ensemble featuring torn blood-stained shirts, a plastic meat cleaver, and a gory facemask, perpetuated the negative perception of mental health. Tesco, on the other hand, presented an orange jumpsuit and face mask resembling a high-security prison uniform, further fueling this damaging narrative.
When the images and links went viral on social media, there was an outcry from all corners, led by individuals with firsthand experience of mental health challenges. Major charities, like SAMH and Rethink, joined in condemning these costumes. People took to Twitter to express their concerns, and Asda’s social media platforms were flooded with complaints. However, to their credit, Asda swiftly responded by removing the costumes from sale, publicly apologizing to affected customers, and making a substantial donation to Mind. Such decisive action deserves recognition and praise.
Now, it is crucial for other retailers to follow suit by withdrawing similar costumes and issuing apologies. Furthermore, these companies should commit to training their buyers and merchandisers to prevent such offensive products from entering the market.
The Lessons Learned and Moving Forward
This incident teaches us two important lessons in combatting stigma:
1. A Call for Awareness and Sensitivity
Firstly, it is disheartening to witness such incidents still occurring. Asda, known for being a disability-friendly employer, has supported community initiatives and even hosted mental health sessions within their premises. Yet, somewhere within their team, this costume received approval for sale. We must strive to equip everyone with a basic understanding of mental health to recognize and reject such harmful ideas. It is crucial to remember that individuals with mental health conditions are more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators. Just as society has progressed to reject the stereotype that painted Black people as dangerous and scary, we must aspire to achieve the same level of enlightenment when it comes to mental health.
2. The Power of Citizen Action
Secondly, we should take pride in and celebrate the fact that people power, driven by those with lived experience, led to visible change. This grassroots movement caught the attention of national news outlets like the BBC and ITV, creating an upswell of action that even mental health charities and anti-stigma campaigns couldn’t ignore. By midnight, victory was achieved within Asda, as they changed their stance due to the collective outcry. People even shared their own Halloween costumes as examples of what “mental patient costumes” should truly signify. This victory was a testament to the potential of social media, but we must also remember that not all individuals with mental health conditions have access to technology. Therefore, it is imperative that we find ways to include and engage them in such movements and make them feel empowered and supported.
The ‘See Me’ Anti-Stigma Program
Starting this November, the Foundation and the Scottish Association for Mental Health will commence a renewed Scottish anti-stigma program called ‘See Me.’ This initiative, backed by a £4.5 million investment from the Scottish Government and Comic Relief, aims to tackle the social injustice and multiple inequalities faced by individuals with mental health conditions.
Building upon the progress made in the last decade, ‘See Me’ will shift its focus to human rights and mobilize a social movement encompassing individuals connected to mental health. The goal is to address stigma and discrimination at the community level. By ensuring that the majority who do not directly experience mental health problems understand and support the one in four who do, we can create a society that recognizes the far-reaching effects of stigma on families, mental health professionals, and society at large. The fight against mental health discrimination is everyone’s battle.
This incident serves as a reminder that robust anti-stigma programs must persist. Moreover, it demonstrates the power of ordinary people amplifying the messages generated by campaigns. No central campaign alone can generate enough momentum to bring about the significant change in hearts and minds that we need to see.
Last night felt like the morning after The Sun published the infamous ‘Bonkers Bruno’ headline. This time, however, something was different. Stigma took a blow as ordinary people rose in unison to say, “This is not okay.” Let us continue striving for a society where stigma is but a thing of the past.