For those of you expecting an update on the shooting of The Ditch, there’ll be an announcement soon.
In the meantime, I wanted to explore an issue which has been on my mind for some time but which has been brought into focus by recent events. As some readers may be aware, there has been controversy in the last 24 hours, because the UK supermarket chain Asda has been caught selling Halloween costumes labelled “mental patient costume”. There’s a screenshot below.
As you can see, the costume consists of a tattered, bloodstained white coat, a plastic meat cleaver, and a mask which appears to have been modelled on Leatherface of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame. It’s a genuinely unsettling costume and one which would probably be pretty effective if you caught someone unawares on a dark Halloween night. But even if your intention was just to create an edgy, slightly troubling but fun costume which would have people doing a double-take before laughing, it would be a crude but enjoyable product to wear. After all, it’s exactly the kind of thing you expect people to wear when they go out to a Halloween party, and it saves you from finding a lab coat and tearing it up before dropping half a bottle of ketchup over it, then wrapping some bandages (or, in an emergency, some toilet paper) around your head.
But the costume has caused outrage on Twitter. Now, I know you only have to sneeze to cause outrage on Twitter, and the medium has a tendency to attract the thin-skinned and easily provoked. Nevertheless, a Twitterstorm has erupted and Asda has withdrawn the costume from sale (no word, at the time of writing, of who the manufacturer is or whether they too have withdrawn the product). If you need the reason for this spelling out, it’s because of the product description – “mental patient fancy dress costume”. (There’s some evidence, incidentally, that the product was originally intended to be called a ‘zombie’ costume.) To be brief, people have objected to the association of the words “mental patient” with a dangerous, out of control, homicidal person who appears barely human.
I, too, find this offensive, and I’m glad the product has been withdrawn (although I think I would have been content if it had merely been re-titled). Why did I find it offensive? Because, like one-quarter of the population, I have suffered from mental health problems. In my case it was suicidal depression which reached its peak about 13 or 14 years ago and came close to threatening my life. I was put on anti-depressants (largely ineffective) and given a year’s free psychotherapy on the NHS (partially effective – the therapy, that is, not the NHS which is mostly wonderful). I’m not going to go into the details of my illness, except to say that I’ve come out the other side now and I feel much, much better than I did back then. Had it not been for the professionals, however, I might not be here today.