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If it’s not okay to dress as a cancer patient for Halloween, it’s not okay to dress as a mental patient

We all have physical health and we all have mental health. The two are equal and should be treated that way.

Before the whole ‘mental patient’ costume outrage kicked off, I’d spent yesterday evening sitting outside a pub discussing Halloween costumes made, worn or seen by myself and friends over the years. As ever, some were predictable; most were PC, but others, not so much at all. There will always be at least one person at a party who makes it their mission to push the boundaries; Jimmy Saville was last year’s popular choice, but I’ve heard much worse. It’s a question of taste, of course.

Last night, on my return home from the pub, I noticed my Twitter feed filling up with a surprisingly fast-flowing mixture of outrage, shock and anger directed towards Asda and Tesco for stocking and selling a ‘mental patient’ outfit complete with blood spattered gown and meat cleaver and in a ‘psycho ward’ costume. Without the labels, these costumes would be exactly the kind of get-up you’d see on October 31, but bring mental health into the equation and it’s clear now, that those affected by or work with mental health problems are going to react, and not quietly.

Within 24 hours, #mentalpatient was trending on Twitter, users were posting ‘selfies’ to show the world what mental patients really look like (surprisingly normal, actually), mental health charities had issued statements, the costumes had been withdrawn, apologies made and donations pledged. In addition to that, the reaction of those opposed not to the costume itself, but to the connotations they held, made headline news; deservingly so.

Some said that it must have been a slow news day; that this outrage was an overreaction. But sometimes overreaction is necessary. As pathetic as it may seem to some, thousands of people getting angry over a costume was a valid and understandable reaction and it worked because the right people are finally realising that something does have to change and that mental health discrimination must be taken seriously, whatever guise it may be in. It’s easy to make the presumption that an outcry over fancy dress is a tad pathetic, but the fact is that those who were getting angry about the ‘mental patient’ costumes weren’t getting angry over nothing.

Unless you’re planning to dress as Walter White this Halloween, going as a cancer patient would be pretty disgusting, tasteless and really not funny in any way at all. We all have physical health and we all have mental health. They are equal and people have campaigned for years to try to make people aware of that fact. The two are equal and should be treated that way. If it’s not okay to dress as a cancer patient, it’s not okay to dress as a ‘mental patient’, especially in the way Asda and Tesco depicted it.

The truth is that 1 in 4 of us experience mental health problems (supermarket workers included), and here’s a little secret, between you and me: we’re not all dangerous and we’re not all potential murderers. What is just as scary though, is that people with mental health problems are still discriminated against and still live in fear of the stigma that surrounds it. Anything that can be done to reduce that stigma should be done and this whole debacle and the reaction to it is proof that if enough people shout about something unfair and unacceptable, people have no choice but to listen and act.

Apologies and donations are okay; but let’s hope that important lessons are learnt here, not only by Asda and Tesco, but also on a wider scale, to anybody who has ever made the lazy yet unfortunately stereotypical association between mental illness and mad criminals. We’re alright, really.