Asda and Tesco's Halloween costumes: Censoring the word ‘mental’ just adds to the stigma

One in four of us has earned the right to make light of our suffering

Share
Related Topics

When doctors found a tumour in my intestine six years ago I immediately emailed my editor to tell her. But never as I crashed and collapsed throughout my twenties thanks to the kaleidoscopic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder did I tell any boss: “I can’t come in because I woke up screaming, couldn’t get back to sleep and now exhaustion is triggering anxiety.” And that’s because of stigma.

Mental illness might be a prison, but it need only be a category C one, where, yes, you can’t just skip out, but there’s a base level of comfort. It is stigma alone that makes it not only a category A prison but solitary confinement.

This is why I object to those who jump up and down about the use of the word “mental”. Everyone is right to condemn Asda for selling a Halloween “mental patient fancy dress costume” complete with scary mask, bloodied straitjacket and meat cleaver. But not because of the wording but the grotesque lie such terrifying imagery reinforces about mental illness.

With the uproar, however, came the resurfacing of those who condemn even the utterance of “mental”. Sorry, but one in four of us has earned the right to say “being mental” and to make light of our suffering – not least because it is not being derogatory towards the person, but the bastard illness. Those who wish to see some sort of word ban seem to confuse the two: to say neocolonialism is a cancer is not being offensive about cancer sufferers.

I love the word mental. Its meaning is as wide as mental health itself. Policing it at this stage will not engender greater empathy but stifle discourse. The human rights struggle for the mentally ill lags way behind. Sixty years ago did gay people shout about their preferred terminology? No, they were in prison or in the closet, kept there by silence. Progress was made by pickaxing stigma, first by coming out.

Imagine being able to be honest and tell a colleague: “I can’t come to your leaving do because I’m so depressed I can hardly talk.” Imagine how many of Britain’s 6,045 suicides in 2011 could have been prevented if everyone spoke freely about mental health. Imagine if the teenage boy standing on a roof could have told a teacher: “I feel like I’m going mad, please help me.”

We won’t help that boy if we now start obsessing about lingo. Save that for when we feel as able to say we have anxiety as easily as the ’flu.

Until then, there’s an emergency, a more pressing target for outrage: since the Coalition formed, mental health spending has been cut two years in a row, just as the suicide rate rose by 8 per cent, from 2010 to 2011. So as a linguistic debate rages I will be planning my own fancy dress costume for Halloween: George Osborne brandishing a scythe.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application) - Agile

£215 per day: Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application ...

Guru Careers: Business Development Manager / Sales

£30 - 40k (£65k Y1 OTE Uncapped): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Deve...

Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

Guru Careers: Solutions Consultant

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...

Day In a Page

Read Next
IDF soldiers and vehicles in an image provided by campaign group Breaking the Silence  

'Any person you see – shoot to kill': The IDF doctrine which causes the death of innocent Palestinians

Ron Zaidel
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd give tax cuts to the rich, keep Trident, and get my football team wrong

Frankie Boyle
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before