So long, farewell: the Asylum “scary mental patient” horror maze is no more

12 Nov

So long farewell Sound of MusicUpdate small

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See the little yellow”update”  tags below for latest on the story that keeps on giving – you couldn’t make it up!

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The Asylum – Thorpe Park’s “scary mental patient” live action horror maze – is no more. It closed at the end of the 2013 Halloween season and will not reopen. Thorpe Park has – at long last – agreed to change the name.

After so many weeks of campaigning, how has this agreement been achieved? Appeals to Thorpe Park’s humanity and kindness seem to have fallen on deaf ears: all we met with brush offs and no promise of action. What made the difference? In the end, Thorpe Park’s agreement to change the Asylum’s name came only after Surrey police investigated them for hate crimes.

That’s right, the police. Thorpe Park did not agree to make any changes to the Asylum as a result of:

None of these, it seems, counted as (to quote Thorpe Park) “serious complaints”. It was only when psychiatrist Dr Nuwan Dissanayaka reported Thorpe Park to Surrey police for hate crimes on 25th October, and the police started to investigate, that (a full two weeks later, just after the Asylum had closed for the 2013 season) Thorpe Park apologised – via the police – and agreed – via the police – to change the name. In the words of Surrey police in their letter to Dr Dissanayaka of 5th November (pictured below right):

“… due to concerns of yourself and others, Thorpe Park have agreed to change the name of this particular maze for 2014 Fright Nights. In addition, the management have given their apologies for any distress the maze may have caused to any individual or group.”

Surrey police Thorpe Park letter

When concerns were raised with Asda about its “mental patient” fancy dress costume, Asda promptly withdrew them from sale. Asda also paid the profit it would have made from the sales to mental health charities. Tesco did the same.

In contrast, Thorpe Park kept the Asylum open throughout the Halloween season and only announced the name change after the season ended and only then after having been reported for hate crimes. The agreement to change the name is good news. It is to be welcomed. But it is only a start. Why? For two reasons.

First, the action agreed by Thorpe Park does not go far enough, and the linguistically-guarded (in other words, mealy-mouthed) “apology” appears to reflect a lack of understanding of the seriousness of the issues. For instance, what is the point of changing the name of the horror maze if there are still “scary mental patients” chasing guests around to make them afraid?

That’s why Dr Niall Boyce – editor of the Lancet Psychiatry and author of the joint letter from the Royal College of Psychiatrists et al – is still pressing for the Skype call we’ve been asking for since October. Earlier today, Dr Boyce spoke with Lionsgate, Thorpe Park’s partners in the Asylum horror maze. Thorpe Park didn’t answer the phone. Let’s hope Lionsgate have a better sense of corporate social responsibility than it appears Thorpe Park has.

In the proposed Skype call, we will ask for the actions set out in Appendix II of my open letter to Thorpe Park fans of 21st October, namely:

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Some suggested steps which would cost no (or hardly any) money:

  • Apologise for the harm caused by evoking the “scary mental patient stereotype – no excuses, no hedging, no fudging, and to come right from the top (if it doesn’t sound like an apology, you’re only making it worse)
  • Make the Time to Change mental health pledge, get involved with other anti-stigma actions and encourage staff to do so too
  • Include links to mental health information on its website page, facebook and videos
  • Invite mental health charities to do the following:
    • to hand out leaflets at the park
    • to host an information stall at the park
    • to discuss what further steps would help improve the mental wellbeing of management, staff and customers

Steps that would involve expenditure:

  • Rename the Asylum and change the scare actors’ costumes so they no longer have any connection to the outdated, inaccurate and damaging “scary mental patient” stereotype
  • Donate the profits from this year’s the Asylum to a mental health charity such as Rethink Mental Illness (which started the #AsylumNO and #AsylumOK hashtag campaign), local mental health charity and/or anti-stigma campaign Time to Change
  • Provide training and support (for instance, through mental health charity Mind), including:
    • mental health awareness training for its senior management team, PR team and HR department
    • making mental health support services available to all staff
    • training staff in mental health first aid (in addition to physical first aid) and provide parity of esteem between mental and physical health first aid services to customers and staff throughout the park’s operations

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However, given the actions Thorpe Park  has taken since that, these very reasonable steps may no longer be enough to redeem Thorpe Park’s position.

Secondly, despite the letter from Surrey police saying that Thorpe Park had agreed to change Asylum’s name, this morning Thorpe Park tweeted me as follows:

“To clarify, we have not agreed to change anything, but take all feedback seriously.”

These denials have been repeated. Apart from these tweets, there has been no statement whatsoever from Thorpe Park. It seems that, apart from these tweets, at present  Surrey police are acting as spokesperson for Thorpe Park.

So will Thorpe Park’s “scary mental patient” live action horror maze rise from the dead like a zombie in 2014? Or is it perhaps that someone on the Thorpe Park twitter or PR team hasn’t quite woken up to what’s been happening and the seriousness of the issues. Let’s hope they do soon because, the longer this drags on, the more poorly it reflects on perceptions of Thorpe Park’s business ethics.

And, the longer this drags on, the more material it provides for business and public relations course tutors for case studies on how to get it wrong.

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Related web links:

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Mainstream media coverage:Update small

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Theme park industry coverage:
  • Surrey police confirm contact with Thorpe ParkAirgates Attraction News (Tuesday 12th October) – “Surrey Police have confirmed claims that they spoke to Thorpe Park staff during an investigation into the Asylum maze: yet Thorpe Park deny any contact with the police.”
  • Thorpe Park believed to rename Asylum mazeAirgates Attraction News (Sunday 10th October) – “Following claims that the Asylum maze at Thorpe Park constitutes hate crime , there are now reports the name of the maze is to change. Thorpe Park denies these claims.”

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Tweets collated on Storify:Update small

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Public relations:

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Blogosphere:

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15 Responses to “So long, farewell: the Asylum “scary mental patient” horror maze is no more”

  1. nearlydead 12 November 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    Reblogged this on nearlydead.

  2. Marion 12 November 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    Thanks for such a clear summary of progress, including what needs to happen now. I think it’s a fantastic result so far and although it may have been clinched by the involvement of the police (interestingly instigated by a psychiatrist – nice to see them doing useful stuff), that seems unlikely to have happened without the energised campaign. Liz Sayce’s book From Psychiatric Patient to Citizen says something about “education, education, legislation” – i.e. informing/persuading gets us so far but effective use of the law really helps. Anyway, big congratulations and thanks to you and others who’ve campaigned so successfully on this abhorrence.

    • Sectioned 12 November 2013 at 8:36 pm #

      Yes, I think you’re right about the need for legislation. The threat of legal action seems to be the only thing that gave Thorpe Park pause for thought in the end.

      Good riddance to this ghastly so-called attraction.

  3. Jamie 12 November 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    Thank you very much everyone for ruining yet another good thing in life!
    Soon there will be nothing left.

    Pathetic – you stupid, stupid campaigners should be ashamed of yourselves.

    • Sectioned 12 November 2013 at 8:51 pm #

      “Ruining yet another good thing in life” – It is Thorpe Park and other theme parks who have tried to ruin Halloween for vulnerable and marginalised people with mental health problems by demonising and ridiculing us. Thorpe Park’s “scary mental patient was not a good thing in life and zombies, witches, goblins, ghosts, ghouls, black cats and monsters leave plenty of options for having scary fun.

      “Pathetic” – It is minority of horror fans who want to carry on having fun at the expense of a vulnerable and marginalised group who are pathetic.Time to grow up and get out of the school playground.

      “Stupid” – It is the minority of horror fans who think it is a noble cause to stand up for the right to pick on vulnerable people who are stupid. Time to get educated about what is a serious issue so you don’t get left behind.

      “Ashamed of yourselves” – It is the minority of horror fans who’ve persisted in defending this ghastly so-called attraction who should be ashamed of themselves. It is Thorpe Park, which has kept this “scary mental patient” horror maze open in the face of a public outcry, which should be ashamed of themselves.

      Personally, I am proud of the small part I have paid in contributing to the demise of this attraction. And there are many others who deserve to be too.

    • Laura 12 November 2013 at 8:52 pm #

      Yes I know, portraying those with an illness as terrifying monsters is a great laugh. Yet another one of life’s great joys destroyed by those who want to live their lives without stigma, prejudice and discrimination.

      Would you think it was such a good thing if it was a cancer patient ward? Or heart disease?

      I think you’ll find you’re the pathetic one who should be ashamed of themselves. Do try to grow up and learn some basic empathy.

      • Sectioned 12 November 2013 at 8:57 pm #

        Well said.

    • Sam 12 November 2013 at 9:27 pm #

      Try making an argument……..Saying ‘stupid’ and ‘pathetic’ is meaningless, particularly when people have put a great deal of thought into the issues.
      Does protecting people from stigma by policing it actually make them even more vulnerable? It is absurd to use hate crime laws in this instance and this will do vulnerable people great harm. Why do people not believe in Witches anymore, when in the 17th century, belief was widespread?

      • Sectioned 12 November 2013 at 9:53 pm #

        It’s puzzling trying to work out what point you are trying to make.

        However, it is fair to say that a great deal of thought was put into the issues by the likes of Professor Graham Thornicroft, student nurse Katie Sutton, Dr Niall Boyce, Dr Nuwan Dissanayaka, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Mind, Rethink Mental Illness, Time to Change and many others. They put forward cogent, valid arguments, over several weeks.

        So it was a shame, therefore, that Thorpe Park didn’t respond to these arguments. It is a shame that Dr Dissanayaka was forced into making a hate crimes report. But sometimes, the only way left to protect vulnerable people from being demonised and ridiculed is to use the law.

  4. Sam 12 November 2013 at 11:42 pm #

    My reply was meant to go on the end of Jamie who did not have much of an argument. I don’t think using the hate crime law will protect people (it may do); I think it will probably make them more vulnerable by causing identity problems.

  5. summoningesther 13 November 2013 at 9:33 pm #

    Reblogged this on summoning esther and commented:
    An interesting update via sectioned about the ongoing Thorpe Park debacle. I tried to ring them to ask about it, only to find after 10 minutes on an 0870 number that all the information regarding disability access and policy was recorded. Wrote an email and a letter and then got fobbed off. Wish I’d heard about Katie Sutton’s petition earlier.

    It is a hate crime. In the same way that the BBC didn’t take my accusations seriously, Thorpe Park only seem to take complaints seriously. Shame it takes the police getting involved before they’ll listen- its obvious from this post that they have no intention of actually changing the content of the ride. Perhaps it’s time LionsGate productions, who have heavy involvement in the Tussaud’s Group and their frightnights, were put under the spotlight too.

  6. X 17 November 2013 at 4:57 pm #

    Is it time for the Royal College of Psychiatrists to disown the DSM criteria for borderline personality disorder on the basis that it promotes hate? Why has it had a finger in this pie (and not only a finger) for so long, yet never cared to mention it. An explanation is required.

  7. X 20 November 2013 at 6:24 pm #

    Why bother attacking Thorpe Park? By ending the ride which supports a stereotype not matched by reality, what have you replaced it with? Nothing. You need human stories, and you need to get them listened to by people that matter the most. Psychiatrists, social workers, clinical psychologists just circulate concepts and diagnosies, in the end a diagnosis becomes a cage. It looks sophisticated and clever but really it’s dull and lazy. Leave them to it. Lets get back to the human. Schizophrenia is a concept. Bin it. Replace it with think, feel, experience; not symptoms. What about family, home, recreation? What about aspirations, friendships (or loneliness) secret desires?!?!!!

  8. X 21 November 2013 at 9:39 am #

    Trying to ingrain a sense of victimhood is never going to work. Just watch.

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