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.