Press release – 29 Oct 2013

PRESS RELEASE

Immediate release Tuesday, October 29 2013

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News from #AsylumNO

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Zombies attack Thorpe Park HQ for demonising people with mental health problems

 Petition Delivery: Wednesday 30th October 2:45 PM, Thorpe Park HQ – Staines, Surrey

 

  • Student mental health nurse will lead campaigners in Halloween-themed petition delivery
  • Thousands sign petition for theme park to close ‘stigmatising’ Halloween attraction The Asylum
  • Telephone conference with Thorpe Park on Wednesday 30th October (time to be confirmed) and Sue Bailey (President, The Royal College of Psychiatrists), Niall Boyce (Editor, The Lancet Psychiatry), Graham Thornicroft (Professor of Community Psychiatry, King’s College London, Institute of Psychiatry), Katie Sutton (student mental health nurse) and others

Zombies from across the land will descend on Thorpe Park’s HQ tomorrow (Wednesday, October 30) to support a campaign to change the name of a Halloween attraction that stigmatises people with mental illness.

They are hungry for the brains of Merlin Entertainment, which runs the theme park, to change their mind about the Asylum horror maze.

Student mental health nurse Katie Sutton is leading the group, having gained the support of more than 5,750 people.

She and the zombies will deliver the petition at 2.45pm to the chief executive of Thorpe Park in Staines, Surrey.

Miss Sutton, who started the petition on campaign site Change.org, says that the attraction reinforces negative stereotypes of people with mental health problems by linking them with scary imagery.

Katie said: “It’s time we all took a stand against this sort of lazy and damaging stereotyping of mentally ill people. It’s completely irresponsible that a brand as high profile as Thorpe Park would link mental illness with this kind of outdated nonsense. Thorpe Park has said that they haven’t received many complaints – so we’re taking the thousands of signatures to their door to show them how many people think the Asylum horror maze must go.”

Miss Sutton added that campaigners chose to deliver the petition in fancy dress to prove they were not Halloween killjoys, as suggested by some opponents on Twitter, and as a way of suggesting what the new theme of the maze could be.

Mental health charities Rethink Mental Illness (which began the #AsylumNO hashtag vote on Twitter) and Mind, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Time To Change, The Lancet Psychiatry and The Lancet as well as Miss Sutton and mental health blogger and activist @Sectioned_ wrote an open letter to Thorpe Park on October 24 urging them to change its name and theme. It read: “Entertainments” such as Asylum perpetuate the myth that mental health problems are synonymous with dangerous, homicidal behaviour.’ They added: ‘We, and many others, see Asylum as an embarrassment: by changing its name and theme it is possible to entertain the public without perpetuating harmful stereotypes.’

Earlier this month, Asda andTesco were forced to apologise publicly and make donations to mental health charities after a social media backlash over “Mental Patient” fancy dress costumes on their websites.

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Note to editors:

Sue Bailey, President, The Royal College of Psychiatrists
Sue Baker, Director, Time to Change
Niall Boyce, Editor, The Lancet Psychiatry
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive, Mind
Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief, The Lancet
Paul Jenkins, CEO, Rethink Mental Illness
Katie Sutton, University of Salford
Graham Thornicroft, Professor of Community Psychiatry, King’s College London, Institute of Psychiatry
Mental health blogger and activist [Twitter: @Sectioned_]

  • Full text: Thorpe Park – An open letter

Mental health organisations have sent an open letter to Thorpe Park in response to the row over its ‘Asylum’ attraction. You can read it below…


Dear Thorpe Park,

Your Halloween attraction, Asylum, has provoked a strong response from the users of mental health services, as well as carers, health care workers, academics, and others with an interest in the field. Your response thus far indicates that you are unclear as to why this depth of feeling exists.

Your spokesperson reportedly said that Asylum is “not intended…to be in any way offensive or to be a realistic portrayal of a mental health or indeed any other institution.” We would argue that you are not taking account of several factors: first, the history of mental health institutions, and the continuing suffering of patients in substandard facilities worldwide; second, the fact that attractions such as yours don’t just “[draw] on classic horror film content” but shape culture as a whole; and third, the sheer extent of the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health problems every day.

The title of your attraction and its content derive from the perceived horrors of the asylum. We believe the true horror of these institutions was the treatment visited on their many unfortunate patients. Shackling and other forms of physical restraint were used, and indeed, are still employed in many parts of the world – a situation described as “an unresolved global crisis”. You might recall that, in the bad old days of UK asylums, the public were permitted to come and observe patients for their amusement. You will therefore understand that a “simulated experience” reminiscent of human rights abuses is in very poor taste.

As outlined in a recent report entitled At risk yet dismissed: the criminal victimisation of people with mental health problems, 45% of those with severe mental illness were victims of crime in the previous year. They were also five times more likely to be a victim of assault than were people in the general population. However, “entertainments” such as Asylum perpetuate the myth that mental health problems are synonymous with dangerous, homicidal behaviour. The aggregated effect of this is considerable. International surveys have shown that 72% of people with schizophrenia felt the need to conceal their diagnosis, while 79% of people with depression reported discrimination in at least one life domain. One researcher was told that the experience of stigma was worse than the mental health problem itself.

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. We, and many others, see Asylum as an embarrassment: by changing its name and theme, it is possible to entertain the public without perpetuating harmful stereotypes. You have the opportunity to restore your organisation’s reputation, and support some of the most vulnerable and neglected people in society. Please take it.

Yours sincerely —

Sue Bailey, President, The Royal College of Psychiatrists
Sue Baker, Director, Time to Change
Niall Boyce, Editor, The Lancet Psychiatry
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive, Mind
Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief, The Lancet
Paul Jenkins, CEO, Rethink Mental Illness
Katie Sutton, University of Salford
Graham Thornicroft, Professor of Community Psychiatry, King’s College London, Institute of Psychiatry
Mental health blogger and activist [Twitter: @Sectioned_]

– Ends –

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One Response to “Press release – 29 Oct 2013”

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  1. #AsylumNO Petition hand over | Sectioned - 29 October 2013

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