Asda, axes and the persistent myths of mental illness

Asda, axes and the persistent myths of mental illness

The last few years have seen a number of high profile campaigns to end the stigma associated with mental illness. Time To Change ran an excellent one a few years back, and I really began to think things were changing.

Then this week two supermarkets in the UK, namely Asda and Tescos began selling their Hallow E’en range of spooky costumes and included one that was named (in one variation or other) Mental Patient. A blood-spattered costume was nicely accessorised by an axe anointed copiously with fake blood. The outcry online was such that the costumes were removed from stores and from their websites.

It’s only the outcry that has cheered me up from the very real sadness this provoked in me.

That someone in marketing could have been so crass as to think this was even vaguely acceptable is beyond me.

The truth is that mentally ill people are far more likely to harm themselves than another person, and much of that harm is inadvertently done as a result of harsh medication causing side effects. Those with serious mental health issues are considered likely to die 20 years before peers without such illness.

20 years. You did read that correctly. This is thought to be due to the long term effects of some medication and to other factors such as the knock-on effects of certain medications (such as weight gain etc)

One of the factors I have noticed is that physical illness is often missed by doctors, because they have a tendency to assume everything is down to a mental health issue once someone has that on their file. It’s also down to a deep prejudice that is often unacknowledged. It’s this that can make people like me who have had a life long battle with my mental health hesitate when unwell. I start to believe that everything is my imagination or a product of being depressed. My recent discovery that I have a congenital condition that is quite serious (and may have been something that can be fatal) came on top of having to fight for a referral by a GP who’d decided to write me off as merely (ha bloody ha) depressed. I’m in the process of trying to see another doctor about mysterious pain that has been getting worse for six months but I have been putting off seeking help now until the pain has been keeping me awake at night. All because I have become so afraid of being dismissed as being mentally ill. It shows to me that there are too many people around who only take in the mental bit and not the ill part. I do not choose to be ill, whether physically or mentally.

This gaffe by major British supermarkets shows that sadly the stigma is still present, and while I believe that it may be less than it was ten years ago, it’s still far from vanishing. 

5 thoughts on “Asda, axes and the persistent myths of mental illness

  1. I really understand and empathise. I know from the reaction of my ultimately well-meaning GP that she puts a lot of my health worries down to my mental health issues and it was only because I saw a different GP who scared the hell out of me that I got my gallbladder sorted. She certainly had me down as an anxious parent. If the medical profession have this low grade prejudice (for that is what it is, even if they are kind and want to help) then what hope for the general population? To be honest though, these suits are the sort of images kids see in computer games and horror flicks every day. The villains are often represented as ‘psychos. I think the real horror of these fancy dress costumes was in the labelling, as you say….


  2. While I empathize with anyone suffering from mental illness, in the U.S. the severely mentally ill are now out in the residential neighborhoods living in group homes when at one time they were kept behind locked doors. What do the Virginia Tech Massacre, Tucson, Arizona shooting of Gabby Giffords and others, the Aurora Colorado theatre shooting, the Sandy Hook massacre of children and school personnel and the Navy Yard shooting have in common? All of the shooters were mentally ill. Even the Fort Hood shootings could be attributed to mental illness since the Major was suffering from mental illness besides being intent on committing jihad on Americans.

    Here, our mentally ill are falling thru the cracks because no one wants to put a label on them, no one wants to deal with the issue because they want to be politically correct. I understand there is a stigma involved when one has mental illness but we cannot continue to just allow these severely ill people to walk our streets, buy or have access to guns and continue to allow them to kill innocent people. These mass killings, which used to happen once in a blue moon are now an everyday occurrence.

    The citizens of this country had better start reporting strange behavior and violent tendencies to authorities or more of these mass shootings will happen and the heartache that follows for the family members who are left will continue to disrupt the lives of these innocent victims of violence. Perhaps the British handle mental illness differently than they do here in America. But in America things need to change and they need to change quickly. I cannot imagine how the families of those who have been killed in these mass shootings deal with the loss of their loved ones. Wake up America….keep your eyes open and report those with violent tendencies to the proper authorities. The tears shed by those left behind are becoming an ocean.


  3. Re that previous comment. Looks like for some the concept of ‘mad’ has simply replaced the word ‘bad’.
    Btw, it’s not that the British handle mental illness differently. It’s that we have much stricter gun controls in the UK. The US should try them instead of continuing with the insane belief that every citizen should have an inalienable right to bear arms.


  4. How very weird and wrong that the supermarkets went for the vague and non-applicable “mental patient” and not the more specific “axe murderer”. That’s something I always find odd about these types of incidents – they’re typically not just hurtful and insensitive, but also poor marketing too. You’d think the marketing aspect would win out even if the more humanitarian factors didn’t.

    I hear you about the health issues and the difficulties getting treated for them. I once had a doctor refuse to examine and treat an inner ear infection because he insisted the symptoms meant I was pregnant. (I wasn’t.) It seems that if you have an unrelated pre-existing condition — whether having mental health issues or simply being a female in her child-bearing years — you risk having your symptoms dismissed out of hand.


  5. Pingback: What does mental illness look like? The mental patient | Sectioned

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