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ASDA has shown us how little progress has been made

  • Comments (10)

This morning I heard a radio interviewer ask:

“ASDA’s “mental patient” Halloween costume was just a bit of fun wasn’t it?”

It needed to be asked because I expect many people listening to the story thought it was just that, a bit of fun.

But the question itself upset me.

I grew up with a mother who had bipolar disorder. I never told my friends because I felt it was something to be ashamed of. It was embarrassing, and as a teenager I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain what was wrong with her. I remember wishing she had something “normal” like cancer, which other people could understand.

Living with and caring for someone with a mental illness can be a very lonely place. I know people were often wary of my mother when she was ill, because they didn’t know what to do or say. The easiest thing to do in those situations was to avoid her - and the rest of the family as well.

40 years on I am happy to talk about my experiences, but while I may have moved on the ADSA costume is a reminder of how little progress has been made in removing the stigma of mental illness among the general public.

So in a perverse way ASDA has done us a favour. At least this morning the TV and radio were giving airtime to people talking about what it is like to live with a mental illness. These were articulate people who get up, have their breakfast, go to work and look after their families and happen to have a mental illness.

But there are people who cannot cope with the stigma that still surrounds mental health problems. As the former footballer Stan Collymore, who has a history of depression, tweeted: “Do you actually realise how many people are hanging themselves because of being frightened of the stigma?”

 

 

We may have made progress, but there is still a long way to go before people with mental illness – and their families – feel able to speak about their situations as openly as those who have “normal” physical illnesses.

  • Comments (10)

Readers' comments (10)

  • tinkerbell

    perhaps the word 'mental' needs to be redefined. Perhaps it is the word that carries the stigma not the illness.

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  • Anonymous

    tinkerbell | 26-Sep-2013 5:17 pm

    excellent point. 'mental' certainly has connotations.

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  • Anonymous

    The wording is irrelevant, changing a word does not change the attitude. How many times have we changed words for political correctness only for the new word to attract the same stigma over time.

    No, sorry, the bottom line here is we have to build understanding and change attitudes, not words.

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  • tinkerbell

    I agree that understanding/education can change attitudes but do not underestimate the power of words. If a picture can paint a thousand words then a word can also paint a picture. By labelling someone as 'mental' a picture can be placed in someone's mind and create a picture/perception of another because of a generalised, stereotypical, generalised understanding of that word.

    Labelling people can create stigma when people use it in a derogatory manner, like the word 'spastic'.

    It is not always about political correctness but sometimes words do not always reflect how things have changed, we no longer have the snake pit type of mental patient and mental no longer describes most people who have a psychiatric diagnosis.

    Language can change over time because it no longer reflects changes in society and some words are no longer used for their original meaning.

    Wicked.

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  • Anonymous

    I agree with the article and think it is never acceptable to label people or make fun of mental health disorders as the sensitivities of sufferers may not be known and some will be affected more than others. However, bringing such issues into the open for discussion and raising awareness cannot be a bad thing.

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  • Anonymous

    Also what upset me was the blood and blade, depicting violence as if that should be a bit of fun.
    Why do people have to draw on illness and violence for fun is beyond me.

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  • Fran Entwistle

    Thanks for this blog Eileen. I completely agree with you that ASDA's choice of wording highlighted that there is still a need for a change in attitude.

    However, a huge positive to come from all this was the amount of public outrage, which showed the vast majority of the general public view this type of derogatory language as discriminatory. I'm not sure it would have caused as much of a stir 10 years ago.

    Perhaps campaigns such as Time to Change are influencing public opinion?

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  • michael stone

    The halloween costumes really weren't on.

    But there is something interesting about 'the immediate reaction' to some of these issues. There was an episode of 'Frost' where the two central characters had Downs: I watched it, and the teenage lad with Downs who was central, was actually behaving 'perfectly normally' while many of those 'around him' were very clearly behaving 'inappropriately simply because he had Downs'.

    So when I saw that programme, my 'take' was that the supposedly 'normal' characters were the ones 'being criticised' (by the plotline). But it got torrents of criticism, apparently on the grounds that it was 'negatively portraying the Downs characters' (my phrase) - actually, it was negatively portraying the 'normal' characters.

    That isn't the same 'issue' as this Halloween one, but it is worth wondering about - you seem to get 'blinkered reactions' to some of these issues, and the 'they are making fun of the Downs characters' response was exactly the opposite of what that episode of Frost was doing, IF you 'looked neutrally'.

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  • Anonymous

    Fancy dress costumes are all about reinforcing stereotypes. I suspect that the sexy schoolgirl (or nurse) outfits are still readily available even though this story broke on the day of April Jones funeral.

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  • Anonymous

    perhaps it is salient to remember what we were like as children. Anything different can be frightening, funny or simply alien. And there is nothing wrong in finding humour in life, even if it is sometimes inconsiderate. We have coping strategies that go back for thousands of years that include exploiting those whom we regard as different.
    But most important.... it is a sales strategy by a major business company... it does not change peoples minds about mental illness. Nature/Nurture, who knows.... instead of trying to hide the awful truth that people can be cruel, maybe we should explore it, embrace it and perhaps explain it..., .because it won't go away.

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