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Hopefulness

11 Mar

Daffodils at the allotment

I’m a little bit in shock. I’m still not sure how to put it. It seems too good to be true. It’s taken nearly 3 years to be able to say this:

I’m being seen by a psychiatrist who seems to relate to me as a human being, wants to get to know me as a person and work with me in partnership.

What’s puzzled me so far is why all the psychiatrists I’ve seen haven’t been like this. I know they’re intelligent, caring professionals. So it’s been a genuine puzzle to me why the mental health care I’ve received so far has been so bad or inadequate, and in so many different ways. It’s one thing having one bad experience of care: it happens. But for it to happen repeatedly, with different professionals? It’s a puzzle.

I had no idea that, two years after joining twitter, I’d still be banging on about bad experiences of care. (It’s not because I like them!). I never thought I’d still be going on about what was done to me in hospital. (I’d much rather have had treatment for the resulting PTSD.) I never imagined I’d still be moaning about my bad experiences of community mental health care. (I thought I’d learn how to work the system to get what I needed.)

In fact, just so you know, I don’t do nearly as much moaning on about my supposed “care” as I could. (It would sound way too negative!) I’d summarise my experience of mental health care as having been brutalised, traumatised then parked on welfare benefits and sedating meds. Mental health nurses & doctors who’ve treated me so far have been akin to veterinary staff: they’ve observed, diagnosed and neutralised me.

Non-medically trained staff have related to me with humanity. But, ultimately, they’ve all had to defer to the doctors and nurses. It’s almost as if mental health training gets in the way, prevents staff from seeing the human being experiencing human distress right in front of them.

Does training prevent health care professionals from seeing that what’s in front of them isn’t a diagnosis but is a human being experiencing distressing symptoms? Is the human experience so broad and varied that mental health staff steel themselves to stick rigidly to assigned roles and designated boxes?

Let’s be clear. When I’m in mental distress, it’s not about mental health staff being “nice” to me. It’s not about them being my mate. I don’t need a new friend.

I need a competent professional who’ll work with me in partnership: I’m the expert in me; they’re the expert in mental health care.

No matter how unwell someone is, they’re still a person with thoughts, feelings, quirks, preferences, friends, family and a life to return to. They’re not a puzzle to be solved, a problem to be fixed. They’re a human being, not an animal.

I want to be able to write about good psychiatric care, I really do. I have a vested interest, after all! It’s just not been my experience. I’d much rather have been able to write about fantastic treatment by great nurses and doctors; and about how much better I was in myself. I’d even have settled for half decent care and a bit of respect, mediocre care with a modicum of interest. What I got instead was damaging.

I have seen excellent psychiatric care elsewhere: caring, effective, transforming treatment and support. (Though still with no talking therapy.) I’ve just not received it myself. The comparison is bitter sweet.

Is now my time? Am I on the threshold of receiving effective help? Can I get excited about it yet? Am I on my way to living a full life? I’m not silly. I’m not going to pin all my hopes on one busy professional “fixing” me. I know it doesn’t work that way. But … I feel a sense of anticipation.

I’m hopeful the new psychiatrist and I can come up with a plan that will achieve good results going forwards. I’m hopeful the plan we come up with will include meaningful support and help going forwards, so I’ll be able to get back on my feet. And, this time, it feels as if my hopefulness could be a realistic. I’ve been getting by on wishful thinking for too long.

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  • Collated tweets (Storify) – My tweets (and some initial responses from the lovely twitter people)
  • Twitter conversations – Responses and conversations with the lovely twitter people (these are really interesting – take a look!)

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Schizophrenic leaders

9 Feb

Hypocrite

“As long as they’re not two-faced, hypocritical, schizophrenic.”

What would you say if you heard that in a meeting? Would you pipe up there and then to challenge the misuse of a psychiatric diagnosis in that way? Would you seethe and stay quiet, lost for words or not wanting to expose yourself to scrutiny? Would you follow up quietly afterwards? Or let it drop, for the sake of self-care or personal privacy? What’s the best way to educate people about the negative impact of stigmatising stereotypes and the use of terms related to mental illness as insults? What would you do?

Here are some thoughts on the topic of the casual use of the word “schizophrenic” in a derogatory way and how (and whether) to challenge it. First my musings, then the responses and suggestions of the lovely twitter people.

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That question: So, what do you do?

19 Dec

Difficult question (2)

I was at a party last tweek when, out of the blue, I was asked That Question. You know the one. The one you avoid answering (or even avoid being asked) if you don’t currently have paid work or if you’re working in a job you’re not especially proud of.

So, what do you do?

A pleasant, friendly enquiry, not unexpected at a social gathering, meaning, “What’s your job? How do you earn a crust? What useful function do you serve in the economy?”  It seems such a harmless question when you have a job, income and place in society in the conventional sense. But not all of us do.

My response? In this case, I trotted out the old “portfolio career” cover story. I mentioned a bit of this and a bit of that, brushing the enquiry aside with as few details as possible and then quickly asking about the other person, so as to change the focus onto them. Luckily, he was a talker. I’d side-stepped the need to disclose anything about my current status (which I would describe to myself or family and close friends as convalescence or sick leave). I learned a lot more about the guy I was chatting to.

Then, on Monday evening when participating in a hobby, that same question popped out again. Except, this time, it came with added emphasis, including a reference to the fact that I used to wear a suit to work:

So, you used to be a high-powered executive* What do you do now?

*(His words, not mine!)

This caught me off guard. I realised just how much of a gulf there was between what this guy (mistakenly) perceived my old job to bes and what I’d actually done that day. In fact, I’d let the gas man in to take a reading and written out 4 Christmas cards. Oh, and I’d opened a card from my mother containing a pDifficult questionostal order (which had felt a bit weird at my age). But that’s how I’d spent my day. My plan for the following day was to buy stamps. Hardly a high-powered executive.

How did I respond? Surprised, I went for a transparent dodge. It left the questioner in no doubt that I was avoiding answering, and left me wishing I’d had a bit more practice at lying. He stepped away, I stepped away, and we both pretended we were just getting on with our hobby.

In both cases, I’d succeeded in concealing the truth of my situation. In both cases, I’d put distance between myself and the other person. In both cases, I felt I’d had a lucky escape.

During a recession, it’s probably more socially acceptable to be “between jobs”. But on the other hand it’s probably a less good time to ask the question. What do you say when asked “So, what do you do?” Here are some options, including suggestions by the lovely twitter people, for how to respond.

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  • .Respond with a vague job description

I end up saying I’m now freelance, which is a total lie. – James (@polarbear3127)

“I’m a consultant” suitably vague? -Lexx Clarke (@LexxClarke)

Some retired people say the R word proved offputting to others so they may dress something up into ‘consultancy’ to ward off any negative reactions, especially when dating. – Roslyn Byfield (@RosylynByfield)

Ah, the portfolio career. This was the option I took at the party last Friday. It’s a delicate balance. I mumble about this (which I used to do) and that (which I’ve also done) and the other (which I’ve done a bit of in the past). I’m always hoping the questioner doesn’t do this, that or the other and therefore see through my story. I try to make this, that and the other all sound pretty dull, so the questioner doesn’t enquire further. But then, at the same time, I try to make it sound a little interesting so they don’t think I’m a total waste of time to chat to.

I think that probably I should sit down and write out a fake portfolio for my portfolio career (which did once exist but now doesn’t), so I can reel it off as needed. And also so I remember what I’ve said to people!

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  • Lie

I lie to taxi drivers and the women on the check out because I am so mortified. I know I don’t look ill, either. – Velveteen Rabbit (@velveteen85)

A Sufi master once said to me, “Ask a man no questions, for you may force him to lie.” That is true. If you put someone on the spot in a social situation by asking them a direct question like this, you may create distance by forcing them to fend you off with a lie.

Personally, I’m a terrible liar. If I’m going to lie, I know I’ll need warning and time to practice. When surprised, my lies are unconvincing – as they were on Monday. And I do believe that, if you’re going to lie, you really should take the trouble to lie convincingly. It’s only polite to put the questioner at ease rather than embarrass them with a bad lie.

I rarely ask people a direct question like “What do you do?” It’s not that I’m not fascinated and curious about what other people do. I am! It’s just that I’d rather let people tell their own story, in their own time. That way they reveal what they’re comfortable with you knowing. I’m not sure if people think I’m dreadfully self-centred for not asking what they do. Or perhaps, when engaged in a hobby, it just doesn’t matter.

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  • Deflect with a reference to personal issues

“I’ve had some family issues” is a good short term cover, and also technically not a lie as you are in your family … – ZaFoosBoootla (@dav0lah)

An alternative could be, “Ooh, I’ve been off this past week. Women’s problems.” I’d imagine that would probably curtail someone’s curiosity.

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  • A defensive response that keeps people at a distance

Ask them to ask you an easier question. Meliora Rose (@meliorarose)

 I hate that question, and need to find a suitable sarcastic answer. Sure someone will come up with one … – Martin (@msmithbass)

I always answer, “what do you mean, what do I *do*??!” Sometimes it makes them realise the rudeness & stupidity of the question – PWX (@flossiepie)

On the one hand, this response means you keep private what you want to keep private. On the other, it creates distance rather than intimacy. It doesn’t help develop friendships or potential work contacts. It just says “no”.

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  • Humour

Just tell them “I kill people with my mind.” Government pay is great! – My System (@JazzyJ1112)

Replying “for business or for pleasure?” normally gets a laugh, so then you can change the subject! come to the woods (@cometothewoods)

I spend most of my time drugged up to the eyeballs in a psychiatric ward, just out for the day. Now, where’s the hors d’ouerves? – Martin (@msmithbass )

You put the swirls in cats eyes marbles … Design new chocolates … Taste tester for mouthwash … The voice on the lottery show “I read, I write, I cook, I dance …” Sally Price (@saspist)

You’re an activist! Now people will avoid you for new reasons! – Verity Allan (@verityallan)

“I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” – FWT (@FWT4)

The most popular response was humour. Always a winner.

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  • Avoidance 

My personal favourite and, it appears, popular with others too as a means for not having to give a vague job description, lie or deflect the question with sarcasm or humour. Just keep away from social situations where you might meet new people. That’s one I employed to good effect for a long time after coming out of hospital: I stuck to socialising with people I knew well.

I was speaking to a guy last Friday who’d isolated himself from other people since the 1980s. That’s when he’d lost his job and got his diagnosis. Ever since then, he’d kept himself to himself. He went to the gym, worked out, left – without making eye contact with anyone (except at the day centre we both attend). All for fear of being asked, “So, what do you do?” He was too ashamed he wasn’t working.

I suggested we sit down together, work out some lies, then go out and practice them on people! Thirty years is too long for a lovely guy like him to steer clear of people. Perhaps, if we each have our own convincing cover story to throw people off the scent, we might be more comfortable with meeting new people. Until then, we’ll both continue in our small social circles.

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  • Honesty

During the twitter conversation that led to the writing of this blog post, no one said they’d come clean and say they weren’t working at the moment due to mental illness. It could be a bit like marching into a nursery school in the 1980s and announcing you had HIV/Aids. That would have guaranteed a frosty reception.

Times are changing, but people who feel comfortable saying they’re not working due to mental ill health still seem in the minority, and understandably so: there’s still a huge amount of prejudice and discrimination against people with mental ill health. I long for the day when I can talk about my convalescence from mental ill health in the same way as people do about their experiences of physical illness. But we’re not there yet.

So, in the meantime, I think it’s time to polish off my portfolio career patter and practice those lies so that next time I’m not caught off guard.

 

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Tweet chats part 3: Troubleshooting

17 Dec

Twitter cup cakes

Following parts 1 and 2, here is the third instalment of my introduction to tweet chats. Most tweet chats are great fun and informative, though occasionally you can run into problems. Here’s some advice, just in case things start to go wrong.

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  • The tweet chat is too fast – I can’t keep up!

    Tweet chats are meant to be enjoyable, so don’t worry about missing things. Popular chats can move very fast. Just follow the topics or lines of conversation that interest you, and chip in when you can. You can always catch up later by reading the transcript.

  • I’m a bit lost / I don’t understand!

    Lurk for a bit to try to tune in, but don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for help. Generally, tweeps are a friendly bunch who really enjoy helping others. And, if you have a question about what’s going on, there are bound to be others thinking the same thing.

  • Someone’s arguing with me!

    It’s fine to disagree on a tweet chat, and often controversial topics are chosen to generate heated debate! But keep it to a discussion, not an argument. If you don’t want tweets from a particular tweep, block them and ignore them in the tweet chat. Simples.

  • I’m being harassed, intimidated or abused!

    Sometimes people can get passionate about a topic they care about. Sometimes misunderstandings can occur, given the brief nature of the tweet. Sometimes a tweep or two will be downright nasty. If you feel you’ve been harassed, intimidated or abused in a tweet chat, here are some options to consider:

    1. Take a screen shot of the offending tweets. This provides a record for later.
    2. Save the offending tweets using a service like Storify – ditto.
    3. Block and report the offending tweeter using the button on the screen. If enough people do this, it can result in their account being suspended temporarily. And, at the very least, you won’t have to see their nasty tweets any more.
    4. Send a direct message (DM) to the tweet chat organiser. They may be able to take action at the time or (more likely) afterwards. (You’ll both need to be following each other to be able to send a DM.)
    5. Email the tweet chat organiser with copies of the offending tweets.
    6. If warranted, report the matter to your local police. You’ll need copies of the offending tweets as evidence.
    7. If the offending tweets are from a professional (such as a doctor, nurse or solicitor) whose conduct online is governed by a code of professional conduct (like one of these), consider reporting them to their governing body. You’ll need evidence for this.
  • Someone’s spamming the hashtag / trying to derail the tweet chat!

    Sometimes someone will spam the hashtag or try to derail the tweet chat for their own purposes (eg to push their own agenda or promote a product). Consider whether any of the measures above may be appropriate (other than calling the police). Or just ignore the tweep.

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Here are some suggestions received earlier:

  • If in doubt … pause. – Ian Hulatt (twitter @IanHulattRCN)
  • Enlist someone to back you up in helping lead the chat to greet people, catch important questions or take over if you have technical problems. – Nedra Weinreich (twitter @Nedra)

If you have some personal favourite top tips for tweet chats or have comments on mine, let me know by adding them to the comments below – or tweet me!

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Tweet chats part 2: What to expect and some do’s and don’ts

3 Nov

Tweet tweet Cobalt 123

Last month, I put together a beginner’s guide to tweet chats. Here, I develop that further, sharing some more of the things I’ve learned along the way about tweet chats. The aim is to help those new to tweet chats to join in and get the most from them!

If you’ve ever wanted to take part in a tweet chat, wanted a few tips to help you along, or wanted to send someone else a guide to encourage them to join in, I’m hoping my tweet chat guides will be a good starting point. In part 1, I covered:

  • What is a tweet chat? – tweet chats in a nutshell
  • What’s in it for me? – what can I gain from participating in a tweet chat?
  • How do I follow a tweet chat? – how do I sign up and join in?
  • How do I find tweet chats?

Here in part 2, I cover:

  • Tweet chat do’s and don’ts – some suggestions for getting the most from your tweet chats
  • What can I expect during a tweet chat? – The 8 stages of a (well-run) tweet chat. This might also be helpful if you’re thinking of running your own tweet chat

If you have some personal favourite top tips for tweet chats or have comments on mine, let me know by adding them to the comments below – or tweet me!

[Update: Here’s tweet chats part 3]

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Tweet chat do’s and don’ts:

Here are my suggestions for getting the most from tweet chats.

  • Have fun! … Or at least get something positive from it.
  • Use the hashtag. Use the hashtag. Use the hashtag. Er so, in other words, remember to use the hashtag in every tweet. That way, peeps following the tweet chat in tweetchat.com or equivalent (see part 1) will see your contribution to the conversation. No hashtag, no visibility in the tweet chat. Simples.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask! If you have a “stupid question”, there are bound to be others with the same query too.
  • Encourage and help others. You’ll soon learn that Twitter people love to help others. And, soon enough, you’ll be offering your own advice and examples to newbies too.
  • Debate – don’t argue. Do feel free to disagree and engage in robust debate! On the other hand, don’t turn it into an argument or slanging match.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt. It’s easy for misunderstandings to arise in 140 characters, especially in a fast moving tweet chat.
  • Take care of yourself. Tweet chats can sometimes be pretty intense and stimulating – a bit of a bear pit – especially the popular ones. Is this what you need right now? Sometimes, it’s a good idea to just lurk – you can always catch up later with the transcript.
  • To swear or not to swear – it’s a contentious issue. Some feel uncomfortable with swearing in tweet chats, finding it aggressive and rude, and will back off from engaging. Some feel strongly that Twitter should be a reservoir of courtesy and will claim the moral high ground if “language” is used: for them, one swear word is enough to invalidate any otherwise valid point you may have made. Forever. So be warned.
  • If you’re a professional, be professional. Take a look at your professional code of conduct (if you have one) for advice on how to conduct yourself on Twitter. Some professional duties apply at all times, even when off duty.
  • Respect the topic. Tweeps have come together to discuss a particular topic, so keep your contribution relevant. Questions and comments are encouraged, but please don’t try to derail the focus of the chat. If it’s a topic you’re unsure of, maybe read up a little in advance so you can get something out of it. If unsure, consider contacting the tweet chat organiser in advance for guidance.

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What can I expect during a tweet chat?

A well-organised tweet chat will typically have the following 8 stages. And, if you’re thinking of organising your own tweet chat, this is how I’d recommend doing so.

  1. Advertising – In advance of the tweet chat, the tweet chat organiser will give notice that the tweet chat will take place. This might be on a tweet chat listing, in a blog post or via social media such as twitter. Some tweet chats are general get togethers at a particular time using a hashtag, whereas others will have a topic set by the organiser. Sometimes the organiser will post links to brief reading material or questions to be discussed.
  2. Advance notice – In advance of the chat (for example, at the same time the week before; at the same time the day before; and then starting from a couple of hours before), the tweet chat organiser will tweet reminders of the time, and hashtag, together with any topic, reading material or questions.
  3. Introduction – At the start of the tweet chat, the organiser will introduce the topic to be discussed, and tweet links to any advance reading or guidelines.
  4. Hello’s – As tweeps join the chat (whether to lurk or participate), some will say hi (and later goodbye). Many will not and will just tweet in when they have something to say! (I’m usually one of those!) Tweet chats generally take a little while to get going, so don’t be afraid to lurk till you catch the vibe.
  5. Questions – To get the tweet chat going (and to give it a boost if it starts to flag), the tweet chat organiser may post questions at the start and along the way. This helps to prompt and guide the discussion. Feel free to respond to these questions at the time or later. But you don’t need to respond to the questions specifically: they are just a guide.
  6. Conclusion – The tweet chat organiser will give an alert when the tweet chat is coming towards the end, so people can make last minute points, then draw it to a close. That’s the end of the official tweet chat – though of course you can keep on tweeting. These tweets may not make it into the official transcript (see below) – but they may be the part of the tweet chat you get most from. This is especially so if you prefer a slower pace, or if you’ve made connections you want to follow up.
  7. Transcript – Some tweet chat organisers will post a transcript of all the tweets made using the hashtag shortly after the event (or the next day), together with a summary and maybe a word cloud. This can be a helpful catch-up, whether or not you participated in the tweet chat.
  8. Follow up – One of the great things about participating in tweet chats is you can find interesting new people to engage with, so you’ll find tweeps following each other and making contact long afterwards.

I hope that’s given you an idea of what to expect from a tweet chat and how you can get the most from taking part. Let me know you top tips for tweet chats!

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Still to come:

  • Tweet chat trouble shooting – some tips for when things go a bit eek!
  • Mental health tweet chats – links to popular ones, how to find others & some extra things to think about

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Dear theme park customers and horror fans: an open letter

21 Oct
Scare actors from Thorpe Park's the Freezer horror maze experience

Scare actors from Thorpe Park’s the Freezer horror maze experience

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Update: Scroll down for links to media coverage

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Dear Theme Park Customers and Horror Fans,

Over the past few days, you may have heard about or seen criticisms of theme park horror attractions such as the Asylum at Thorpe Park, Psychosis and Insanity at Farmaggedon and Insanitorium at Norfolk’s Dinosaur Park. Yesterday I put together a round-up of coverage. I’m writing to explain how this arose and what the issues are. Let me start by reassuring you that there is no plan to try to ban Halloween, horror movies or scary fun!

Instead, the aim has been to highlight the cruel and unacceptable ridiculing and demonisation of a vulnerable and marginalised minority – namely people with mental health problems. What is being sought? The replacement within the horror genre (including Halloween theme park attractions) of the “scary mental patient” stereotype with … something else.

In the case of the Asylum at Thorpe Park, for instance, this would mean renaming the horror maze and adapting or replacing the scare actors’ costumes so that they no longer represent “the lunatics taking over the asylum”. It might mean reverting to its 2005 name the Freezer, where crew members dressed as scary abattoir workers (pictured above).

There are plenty of alternative terrifying horror themes from which to choose, such as zombies, vampires and monsters. This could be achieved quickly and with relatively little expense. Other venues have almost identical attractions (such as Tower of Terror at the Alton Towers Scarefest) which make no reference to the “scary mental patient” stereotype – and provide just as much scary fun!

Like racism, homophobia and sexism, the “scary mental patient” stereotype has been around for a long time. And, just as with racism, homophobia and sexism, times have changed. Nowadays, right-thinking people welcome the fact that, in a civilised society, it is no longer acceptable to use vulnerable and marginalised minorities for entertainment and profit, trivialisation and monstering. It’s time for the horror genre and tourist attractions to catch up and be responsible citizens.

Let’s be very clear: This is not about people being offended: it is about the real harm that is done to real people by the repeated evocation of the “scary mental patient” stereotype.  Real harm, such as (to give just one example) enabling the closure of 9% of inpatient psychiatric beds in the past 2 years with no public marches or protests – because negative stereotypes mean people are ashamed to speak out.

This harms individuals with mental health problems, it demeans society and has a huge economic cost. The fact is, research shows that people with mental health problems are far more likely to be victims of crime than to be violent or dangerous to others. The “scary mental patient” stereotype hammers home the opposite view; and, in the case of a live action maze, delivers it with a big dose of fear chemicals that help to reinforce the stereotype in the brain.

Because I am frequently asked the same questions or have the same statements put to me when I tweet on this subject, if I have time I will put together a piece responding to points such as these: “It’s just a maze!” “It’s just entertainment!” “It’s not meant to be realistic!” “It’s a slippery slope!” “It’s banning freedom of expression!”, “It’s political correctness gone mad!” and so forth. These arguments are flimsy when subjected to scrutiny. So, to those who seem intent on making a stand on this issue, I’d say: get your priorities straight.

Last month, after a public outcry, Asda, Tesco and Amazon acted swiftly, apologised and withdrew from sale what they had offensively labelled “mental patient fancy dress costumes”. Asda agreed to pay £25,000 (equivalent to the profit it would have made had it sold the costumes) to a mental health charity. Further steps are in process.

Those objecting to the evocation of damaging stereotypes for profit by the likes of Thorpe Park include senior healthcare mental professionals, mental health charities and people with personal experience of mental illness. So far, we have been unable to persuade Thorpe Park to take the same ethical stance or even respond substantively. Instead, we have been stonewalled. That is why I am appealing direct to customers.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. Its subject matter is important to the one in four of the population who experiences mental health problems. You will either be such a person, or know others who are – though shame may prevent them from being open about this. If you agree with the sentiments expressed in this letter, below are some suggestions for what you can do to help. And how you can encourage Thorpe Park (and other relevant companies) to take action and become part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Yours sincerely,

A not-so-scary mental patient

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Appendix I – What can you do?

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Appendix II – What can Thorpe Park do?

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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Appendix III – What are those working in the mental health field saying?

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Appendix IV – What are the media saying?

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Halloween: What’s wrong with evoking the “scary mental patient” stereotype?

18 Oct

Halloween (2) SEP 2013

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Update: Scroll down for new additions (flagged with the handy yellow update picture), including links to numerous other people’s posts, a defence by a theme park enthusiast & an overview by a theme park industry website

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On Thursday, it came to the attention of the lovely twitter people that one of Britain’s major theme parks, Thorpe Park, had a “scary mental patient” experience as part of its Halloween offering. It was called Asylum. Just as when, a few weeks ago, Asda, Tesco and Amazon marketed their “mental patient fancy dress costumes”, the mental health twittersphere exploded in protest.

Why? Take a look at this video to see the stereotypical “scary mental patient” scare story played out. “Watch your back as you weave your way through The Asylum, a maze of dead ends and hidden corners.” Who are you to watch out for? The Thorpe Park crew dressed as “mental patients”, without a doctor in sight. As one reviewer wrote, “The lunatics have taken over the asylum”. And, just as Asda had renamed its zombie costume the “mental patient” fancy dress costume, so Thorpe Park had decided to rename the Freezer attraction the Asylum, replacing abattoir workers with “scary mental patients”.

Yet again, a high profile British business was showing staggering insensitivity to the harmful effects of evoking negative stereotypes to make money. And yet again – initially at least – some rushed to defend it with points such as these:

  • Get a grip! Isn’t this all a bit over the top? Don’t get so het up about it. You’re blowing this all out of proportion!
  • It’s just a bit of fun! Go on, get a sense of humour, laugh a little, don’t be such a killjoy! Laughter is good! Laughter is a great way to challenge stuff.
  • Don’t be offended – it wasn’t intentional! No offense was intended. I’m not offended.
  • It’s political correctness gone mad! It’s the political correctness jihadists!
  • What about freedom of expression! This is censorship! It’s a slippery slope when you start trying to ban things!
  • There are more important things to worry about. Get your priorities straight! You’re distracting from the real issues.
  • It’s just you that’s bothered about it. It’s only a few people. It’s a tiny minority.
  • It’s just entertainment! Can’t you tell the difference between real and fake?
  • Don’t judge it till you’ve tried it! You’ve never been there, so how can you judge?
  • You’re just drawing attention to all this: ignore it and it’ll go away.
  • It’s been around for years! Why all the fuss now?
  • Don’t close it down – it’s fantastic!
  • This is a storm whipped up by the media! You’re just jumping on the bandwagon. What next, ban Halloween and horror movies?

These were exactly the same issues that arose when Asda’s “mental patient” fancy dress costume was on sale. And they came up again and again today.

Have you been thinking along these lines yourself? Or have things like this been said to you? Do you want to understand the other side of the argument? Or do you want to know how others have responded? If so, I’ll try to write a blog post on the topic myself but, in the meantime, I’m gathering together what everyone’s been posting – from blog posts to twitter to hashtags – and, if you read it, you will find answers to the points raised above – every one of them. You will find my views set out in my tweets. All posts are linked below (scroll down). To follow the conversation on twitter, see hashtags #AsylumNO and #AsylumOK, set up by mental health charity Rethink Mental Illness.

What happened to Asda, Tescos and Amazon? After public protestations, the offensive products were removed from sale, a big donation (equivalent to the profit that would have been made had the costumes been sold) was made to anti-stigma campaign Time to Change and promises were made to engage meaningfully with mental health issues.

What is Thorpe Park’s view? As they tweeted to me on Friday morning:

“The Asylum is a fantastical experience which is not intended to be a realistic portrayal of a mental health institutioUpdate smalln.”

(Update: On Saturday morning, the stock answer has been revised to: “The Asylum is a horror maze, part of a larger horror event. It is a fantastical experience not intended to offend.”)

So for Thorpe Park it seems the fact that it views Asylum as a “fantastical experience”: it was “not intended to offend” and it was not intended as a realistic portrayal”. What will Thorpe Park do? At present, their management team has not showed the same presence of mind, commercial insight or even basic decency to react, other than to say the experience will run the full season though feedback will be considered. Even the simple, inexpensive and quick fix of reverting to the original name Freezer isn’t on the table it seems.

So, if Thorpe Park thinks it’s okay to make money from ridiculing a stigmatised group who face discrimination – and worse – daily, who else does it think is fair game? Now discrimination against people on the basis of race or sexuality is no longer part of the mainstream, who’s left? Which vulnerable groups can be picked on without fear of criticism? Clearly it’s people with mental health problems, as Thorpe Park’s Asylum shows. But what about a ride based around “big fat” gypsy and Roma people stereotypes, or “benefits scroungers”? That seems the order of the day.

There are some interesting suggestions for other rides or experiences Thorpe Park could incorporate into its theme park – more “fantastical experiences” which are “not intended to offend” and “not meant to be realistic portrayals of real” situations. One currently up and running at another tourist attraction is a fantasy rape experience. Yes, you read that right.

On the other hand, what would the answers to the points above look like if, rather than “mental patients”,  the subject was racism or homophobia. If the answers aren’t obvious beforehand, if they’re answered through the prism of anti-racism and ant-homophobia, they should be clearer now.

One final thing: let me make a little prediction. What happens when an oppressed group starts to stand up for itself? At first there’s indifference. Then, when it’s noticed, more indifference. Perhaps ridicule. To some extent, that’s where we are now. Then, once successes start to be achieved, those who are quite comfortable with the status quo thanks very much start the backlash. That’s what I predict will happen next: there will be some successes, but there will also be a backlash. So I hope those wanting to kick down the doors of mental health stigma and discrimination are ready.

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Please let me know of any additional links to add to the page so it’s as complete as possible.

 

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Twitter (collations of tweets using Storify):

  • What points would I like to get across? Take a look at my tweets on the topic on Friday 18th OctoberSaturday 19thSunday 20th OctoberMonday 21st – Please read these, as they set out all the points I want to make but haven’t had time to copy and paste into a blog post yet (I’m better at tweeting than writing blog posts!)
  • The #AsylumNO hashtag: – Friday 18th OctoberSaturday 19thSunday 20thMonday 21st – Tweets on the hashtag #AsylumNO, started by mental health charity Rethink Mental Illness yesterday to canvass opinions on whether people were for or against the Asylum (runs to 11pm on Friday 18th October)
  • The corresponding #AsylumOK hashtag didn’t really take off, but here are the tweets – AsylumOK
  • A conversation with a tweep who wondered why all the fuss was being made now, 8 years after the attraction had been opened, and suggested the name be changed
  • What is twitter saying about Thorpe Park’s Asylum? – Here are tweets that come up when searching “Thorpe Park Asylum” – Friday 18th & Saturday 19th October – Sunday 20thMonday 21st
  • What is Thorpe Park saying about Asylum? – Here you’ll see all of the tweets sent by Thorpe Park’s twitter team since the story broke. And you’ll soon recognise a familiar pattern because there is no movement: the same arguments are rolled out again and again. There were no responses on Saturday after 11:30am, though the twitter account was active till 7pm – Wednesday 16th to Saturday 19th October and Sunday 20th (a deafening silence: twitter blackout on responding to Asylum complaints) and Monday 21st

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The blogosphere (self-published online writing)

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Update smallThe blogosphere – defences of “scary mental patient” Halloween horror experiences

  • Wednesday 16th OctoberThe Asylum debate – By Scare Tours UK blog – The defences raised here are (i) these sorts of rides and their “standard” characters have been around a long time; (ii) they are harmless entertainment because people know they are fictitious; and (iii) it’s politically correct killjoys trying to ruin people’s fun. In that case, why not bring back the Black & White Minstrel Show? It’s been around for ages, it’s harmless entertainment, do don’t be a kill joy! It’s obvious, really, isn’t it …?
  • 2011Review of the Asylum (2011) – By Scare Tours UK blog – “… freaks and misfits … all dressed as inmates (with no doctors) … the underlying story of the lunatics taking over the asylum … exuded a feral energy …” The “scary mental patient” stereotype writ large.

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Theme parks and tourist attractions

  • Dinosaur Adventure (Norfolk)
    • Insanitorium – 1 of 5 attractions in the PrimEvil experience for Halloween
    • Contact them to let them know what you think about their Insanitorium attraction (see Easter Daily Press story below)
  • Farmageddon (Lancashire)
    • Insanity is a different experience altogether, preying on all 6 of your senses, flaunting your phobias and leaving you a shadow of your former self. Featuring “The Treatment Plant”… where our inmates disappear…. Will You?”
    • PsychosistHeY’Ll SeE yOU COmInG, ThEY’lL HeaR yOu scReAMiNg bUt YOu wOn’t seE tHEm…..unTIl iT’S aLL tOo LaTE …”
  • Thorpe Park

    Scroll down to see some of the theme park publicity material

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Theme park industry commentary:Update small

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Links to older pieces:

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Mainstream media:

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Mainstream media – older pieces:

  • October 2008 – Daily Telegraph newspaper – Fright Nights: Thorpe Park’s Hallowe’en mazes – The reviewer describes an attraction aimed at “children and teenagers” and says that, of all the horror mazes in the park, “… I found The Asylum the most effective because it has a plausible mental hospital theme” – That’s right, a “plausible mental hospital theme” for goodness sake.

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Farmageddon Psychosis banner, complete with ... scarey clowns

Farmageddon Psychosis banner, complete with … scary clowns

Farmageddon Insanity banner, complete with blood spattered cleaver

Farmageddon Insanity banner, complete with blood spattered cleaver

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