I’m writing regarding your letter of outrage, on my behalf, to Mr Thorpe Park, regarding the misguided naming of one of their rides – ASYLUM!
You told ‘em, didn’t you? You reminded them that people with mental ill health experience prejudice on a near daily basis – that giving a ride such a name would only perpetuate such stigma, which, you rightfully point out, is every bit as awful an experience for those with mental maladies as the illness itself.
In your letter you explain how you socked it to Asda’s and Tescos by getting them to remove their mindlessly named ‘mental patient’ Halloween costumes – forgetting to mention that the CEO of Asda donated £25 thousand to your charity, and that that particular debate stopped there.
There was no engagement. There were goodies – we the poor, vulnerable sufferers of mental maladies; the baddies – the evil corporations; and our crusaders – coming to our rescue, speaking on our behalf.
You talk of a spokesperson for Thorpe park who allegedly said something…you talk of how -
“We hope and believe that perceptions of mental health are already changing: the recent action by Asda and Tesco in withdrawing “mental health patient” costumes marks this shift.”
You hope and believe?
Are hope and belief the only avenues left to us?
Do you honestly believe the conditions that existed before the sale of these costumes and the naming of this ride no longer exist because you gave them a bit of a public row?
We have recently found, much to the shame of everyone concerned, that simply challenging language does not change attitudes.
We have the example of the BBC who sent two researchers to a letting agency in London – one black researcher – one white – with the same credentials otherwise – to find that the white researcher was offered house viewings, where the black researcher wasn’t.
We have the ongoing stop and search problem with the police in London – although black folk are less likely to take illegal drugs, they are around 5 times as likely to be stopped and searched and, to add insult to injury, if found with drugs, they are around five times as likely to be arrested.
We live in a world where racist language has been all but removed from our vocabulary and yet we find that racism is alive and well.
I speak to people about mental ill health on a daily basis; sufferers of mental maladies; their carers, friends and families alike.
I also speak with people with no obvious connection to the world of mental health.
When presented with somebody with a mental health malady – me – people begin to visibly change as they realise that I/ we don’t fit with the stereotypes they carry.
These same people are terribly wary of the language they use in front of me.
They’re almost paralysed with PC petrification.
At a recent session I ran with a group of 6th formers, I asked them to come up with as many slang words as they could for someone with a mental health problem.
Even though I told them to let rip – there’s nothing I haven’t heard before – I won’t take offence…the worst they were able to come up with were ‘crazy’ and ‘mad’ – words that I encounter on a daily basis as folk try to make sense of my walk around the edge of the UK.
The result of this paralysis? We stop talking in a meaningful way. They feel guilty for the language they use and think – and I feel angry about the words they use – we get nowhere.
Engagement is the way ahead.
There are no goodies and baddies – there are ill informed and better informed on both sides – if we continue to take this polarised stance, nothing will change, no matter how much we hope.
Engaging with people on both sides of this language barrier will change attitudes – not just the use of words.
Prejudice and assumptions are rife on both sides of this debate – the anti mental health sufferer stuff is well documented but…
Do we really think that the general public are such passive recipients of marketing muck as to believe that ASYLUM is representative of folk with mental health problems – sectioned, or otherwise?
Or that they think our psychiatric wards are filled with folk dressed in replicas of the Asda Halloween costume?
Or, more to the point, that everyone who is vaguely entertained by any of these items or rides is some manner of prejudicial pariah.
If I took offence every time someone used the word ‘crazy’ or ‘mad’ I don’t think I’d have been given half the hospitality I’ve received on my way around our lovely island.
I make assumptions every single day on my walk.
I assume people are fabulous and that they are willing to talk about mental health.
As I walk away from these lovely people, from whatever walk of life they come from, they are left in no doubt that mental health is everyone’s concern.
We’ve a lot of work to do.
You could start off by joining a group where people really talk…
Walk a mile