As I sit here writing, with tears streaming down my face, all the awful memories of this time two years ago are flooding around my mind. You see, I was a ‘mental patient’ – the description of your macabre halloween character, from whom ‘people will be running in fear’ (Asda) and your ‘psycho ward’ character (Tesco). Your halloween costumes support the negative connotations around mental illness, reinforces the ignorant perception of mental illness, and has without a shadow of a doubt stopped many people that would have asked for help today, from speaking up.
This ideology of mental illness, by representing ‘mental patients’ this way, is extremely harmful to many. I myself delayed asking for help because of anxiety over how I would be perceived by those who knew me, those who didn’t know me, and for all the times in the future when I knew I would have to disclose this period of mental illness. I was suicidal, and when I wasn’t spending my days thinking of ways I could kill myself to get myself out of the damn shitty hole I had fallen down, I was banging my head against the nearest hard surface as a way to alleviate the distress raging inside my mind. When only a few months earlier I had been a confident, sociable, professional woman. We all suffered in my household because of this distress, although at no point did I ever run around with a meat cleaver, nor would I have harmed a hair on anybody else’s head. I felt a burden to everybody and the day I was admitted to a psychiatric unit was the lowest point of my life. To even breathe another breath at the moment I was admitted was the hardest task I have ever faced.
If I haven’t got across the reality of becoming a ‘mental patient’ please click below to broaden your perspective further:
Please understand, your companies have done great harm with these products. Apologies and charitable donations are not enough. People are working very hard everyday putting themselves in a vulnerable position by speaking up and tirelessly campaigning to reduce the stigma of mental illness. You are in a great position to help this cause, not hinder it.
Time to Change – Let’s end mental health discrimination
Mental Health Foundation – Taking action to end stigma
Journal – Advances in psychiatric treatment – stigma of mental illness and ways of diminishing it
I strongly suggest you look within your companies and address the training needs identified with these damaging incidents. There should be an obligatory mental health awareness session for your buying, marketing, and management teams. You should also take advice from your human resources departments who will be able to inform you how many of your own employees are currently absent from work due to mental illness. In my opinion, these employees need apologies also and reassurance that you value them as human beings.
It’s time to stop the stigma.
Mrs Emma Sheppard (now recovered from mental illness but will always be at risk of recurrence)