I woke today to find social media awash with comments on Asda, and the 'mental health patient' costume they had listed for sale, and then withdrew in embarassment after barrages of complaints. Normally I stick to less sensitive issues when I write a comment post on here, but felt compelled to write my thoughts on this.
Mental Health is a cause very close to me, I have written about it with my professional writer's hat on, and had experience with mental health problems. I would never under estimate the stigma that can be attached to these issues, or what people go through, whatever degree of mental health problem or illness they have.
That said, I wasn't exactly stunned or shocked when a quick search online showed me the outfit in question which has generated so many heated tweets and media debate. The outfit itself is nothing new, people have been buying or creating blood stained clothes, and wearing wild masks for years, and many shops on the high street will be selling similar items in the run up to this year's scare fest. How many cheesy horror movies have we seen with these kinds of characters portrayed in them too? If we are blaming a costume label for making the stigma worse, are we then blaming other aspects of Halloween too - the media, the 'Hollywood' portrayal of horror, guys on a night out in town dressed as a character from Psycho? Is there any proof that controversial Halloween costumes make the stigma worse? These are all questions that have been rolling around in my head.
What we have here is a lesson learned as far as branding is concerned. Asda were absolutely right to withdraw it after the controversy it caused. It was silly and insensitive, and had I seen it on a shop shelf then I'd comment it was tactless. In hindsight could they have sourced a product with a different title, or hidden the existing mental health patient branding - absolutely - but did it surprise or effect me in any way? no, not really.
I walk out of here, into the sunshine, feeling no different than I did yesterday, and will no doubt feel tomorrow. Look at the context in which the product was released to market in - Halloween - full of stereotypes created by the aforementioned movies and myths - then consider all the people that could be walking down the street on Halloween night in similar costumes. Any one of them could have mental health problems/illness - would they say this a true sign of stigma - or pinning existing stigma on to something new?
I realise this stance may court some controversy, but given the reaction, I am taking the risk of airing my views. Retailers can and do make mistakes - but do the effects really run deep, or is it the people that judge mental health problems, rather than these products we should be concerned about?