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UK retailers remove 'staggeringly offensive' mental health costumes from sale

British retailers have removed "mental patient" and  "psycho ward" Halloween costumes from their online stores.

Story highlights

  • Walmart subsidiary Asda and retailer Tesco were selling mental health themed costumes
  • The British retailers apologized and withdrew them from sale after a social media outcry
  • Mental health charity Mind said the sale of the costumes had been "extremely misguided"
  • Soccer player Stan Collymore tweeted about the effect of mental health stereotypes

British retailers have removed "psycho ward" and "mental patient" Halloween costumes from their online stores after criticism that they were offensive to people with mental health conditions.

Walmart subsidiary Asda showed a man in a blood-stained white coat brandishing a meat cleaver to advertise its "Mental Patient Fancy Dress Costume."

Tesco's advertisement for its "Psycho Ward Costume" showed a man in an orange boiler suit branded "PSYCHO WARD" brandishing a hypodermic needle and wearing a mask similar to that of Hannibal Lecter in the film, "The Silence of the Lambs."

An Asda spokeswoman offered the company's "sincere apologies for the offense" the costumes had caused. "This was an unacceptable error and the product was withdrawn immediately," she said in a statement. "We take our responsibilities very seriously which is why we will make a sizable donation to Mind."

Tesco also issued an apology, saying in a statement: "We're really sorry for any offense this has caused and we are removing this product from sale."

Mental health charity Mind welcomed the withdrawal of the costumes, saying the retailers had shown themselves to be "extremely misguided" by offering them for sale.

"It is staggeringly offensive to the one in four of us affected by mental health problems and our families and friends, and troubling that some businesses are still so out of touch with the public mood," spokeswoman Sue Baker said in a statement.

However, Baker said the outcry the costumes provoked on the social media site Twitter was encouraging. "We hope this will urge Asda, Tesco and other retailers and manufacturers to review their processes and consider taste and decency on mental health grounds, to avoid fueling stigma and discrimination that are so damaging for large numbers of the population," she said.

Mind and the group Rethink Mental Illness run the Time to Change campaign to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination.

One of the campaign's supporters is Alastair Campbell, who was former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's media chief and who has publicly spoken of his battle with depression. Campbell was among those who tweeted his displeasure at the "brutally stigmatizing outfits."

"@asda and @tesco should sign up for one of the @mindcharity @Rethink_ @TimetoChange mental health training courses," he tweeted.

Campbell alleged that Amazon still carried mental health patient costumes and called for people to tweet the company, asking it to withdraw them. But in response to an inquiry from CNN, an Amazon spokesperson said: "The item you refer to is not available on Amazon.co.uk."

Soccer player and broadcaster Stan Collymore who has also spoken out on depression, also took to Twitter to criticize the stereotype he said Asda and Tesco's costumes had promoted.

Collymore tweeted: "Do you actually realise how many people are hanging themselves because of being frightened of the stigma? Wording is CLEAR. MENTAL PATIENT."

Collymore encouraged anyone struggling to contact their doctor, describing the 20 million people suffering from mental illness as "a powerful lobby."

Other Twitter users posted everyday photos of themselves saying they suffered mental health issues and "this is what I look like."