What idiot thought that selling Halloween costumes that mocked and further stigmatized would be a hilarious, spooky Halloween treat? British retailers Asda and Tesco, that’s who!
First, Asda tried to be a Halloween trickster and sell a “mental patient fancy dress costume.” Oh god, I wish it weren’t so hilarious that it’s called a “fancy dress costume.”The outfit consists of a blood-splattered straitjacket, a creepy, grotesquely distorted mask, and a meat cleaver, to make it whimsical. This is exactly what the mentally ill look like!
Not one to miss out on the “set the mental health profession back 50 years” game (traditionally played around Halloween; one bobs for apples while making not necessarily violent people with legitimate medical conditions feel like shit), Tesco sold a costume called “Psycho Ward.” It looks like a prison jumpsuit (Orange Is The New Get Your Head Out Of Your Ass, Halloween Execs?) with a giant COMMITTED printed on the back. The model wearing it also has a Hannibal Lecter-style mask, but for all we know that’s sold separately.
Because people are mostly good, the Internet unleashed a shit storm of Twitter criticism, and both companies pulled the items and issued apologies. Asda (which is owned by WalMart), even pledged to make a donation to a mental health organization following the incident.
Given the staggering number of individuals who experience mental health issues, it’s pretty unthinkable that major retailers would make light of the situation in the way that they did. I will always be in favor of mental health jokes as long as they function to alleviate suffering or to help cope, and not to further stigmatize or hurt the mentally ill. Instead, these costumes demonstrate an overwhelming institutionalized bias against mental illness and those who seek treatment. It’s not the joking I have a problem with. These just aren’t funny.