...with Faye Brookes 26 September 2013

Are mental health awareness campaigns fruitless? Outrage at Asda, Amazon and Tesco

Mental health campaigns nationally and internationally work hard to raise awareness about mental health issues and how they can affect any of us at any time.

Raising awareness is extremely important for numerous reasons, not only to support those already suffering but also to support their loved ones. They also teach all of us ways to look after our health, and to mitigate the onset of mental health issues, by advocating stress-reduction techniques and advising how to cope with lifestyle changes.

A further aspect of the aforementioned campaigns is to dispel stereotypes and reduce stigma surrounding mental health. This is important in helping people to talk openly with friends, family, and within the workplace, and to seek support from professionals. However, the recent Halloween costume scandal involving Asda, Tesco and Amazon exemplifies how antiquated stereotypes are being clung on to.

The three retail giants stocked Halloween costumes emulating supposed “mental patients” or patients of a “psycho ward”, which led to deserved uproar. The costumes were accused by Katie Dalton of Gofal, a Welsh metal health charity, of being insensitive to “the one in four people who experience mental health problems”, because they depicted archaic stereotypes that mental health charities are working so eradicate.

After copious expressions of outrage on social media sites, the inappropriate costumes were withdrawn from sale and apologies given, with Asda stating that “the costume should never have been sold and it was withdrawn as soon as it was brought to our attention”. Furthermore, they have consequently given a “sizeable donation” to Mind, a charity working towards better awareness and understanding of mental health issues.

In light of this, it would be easy to assume that the messages of mental health campaigns are failing to be absorbed. However, one must consider the response of outrage, not only from mental health charities with a vested interest in such matters, but from celebrities and also the general public. Furthermore, it is poignant to question whether such a response would have occurred 20 or even 10 years ago. The advent of social media has given a platform to people to express their views to a wider audience, but the views expressed demonstrate that the work of mental health awareness campaigns is fruitful, so much so that multinational corporations can be taken on.

For more information about ending the discrimination surrounding mental health visit www.time-to-change.org.uk.

Faye Brookes

Assistant Psychologist

Faye Brookes is an Assistant Psychologist at Vincent Square Eating Disorder Service