‘Inappropriate’ mental health-themed Halloween costumes withdrawn after campaign - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 26 September

Public pressure has forced two UK supermarket chains to withdraw fancy dress outfits that made fun of mental illness.

‘Inappropriate’ mental health-themed Halloween costumes withdrawn after campaign

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 26 September

A grassroots online campaign to remove the stigma from mental illness has developed in response to the sale of fancy dress costumes that made fun of psychiatric patients.

Two supermarket chains were forced to withdraw Halloween outfits this week after they provoked widespread public outrage.

Asda had advertised a “mental patient fancy dress costume”, resembling a blood-splattered strait jacket. It came with a mask and a fake blood-stained meat cleaver. Tesco had been selling a “Psycho Ward costume” – an orange jumpsuit stamped with the words “psycho ward” and “committed”.

Now hundreds of ordinary people with mental health problems have hit back by going on social media websites to post pictures of themselves in their own “mental health costumes” – their everyday clothes.

Yesterday #mentalpatient trended on Twitter as the campaign, organised by mental health charities Mind and Time to Change, took off.

“Here’s my #mentalpatient costume, appear to have misplaced my weapons so don’t fit Asda’s stereotype!” one woman tweeted.

“This is one of my #mentalpatient costumes. I have a range of other styles & colours,” tweeted another, in a skirt and T-shirt.

Time to Change said the positive response had helped the public “to understand that people with mental health problems are not only *like* you and me, they *are* you and me”.

Asda described advertising the mental patient costume as a “completely unacceptable error”. It said the outfit should “never have been sold” and that “it was withdrawn as soon as it was brought to our attention”. “We’re deeply sorry one of our fancy dress costumes has upset people,” the company added.

Tesco also apologised and removed the “Psycho Ward costume” from its website.

The controversy has arisen amid a growing celebrity-backed campaign to raise awareness about mental illness.

Earlier this year, Stephen Fry, the much-loved television presenter, actor and author, publicly discussed his battle with bipolar disorder and his suicide attempt in 2012.

Former Premier League footballer Stan Collymore, who played for Bradford City and Liverpool, has also spoken out about the depths of his depression and how he once spent a month unable to get out of bed.

Alistair Campbell, a spokesman for Tony Blair when he was British Prime Minister, was yesterday at the forefront of the criticism against the fancy dress costumes.

“It underlines to me that we treat mental illness like it’s not serious,” he said. “I’ve had depression, I’ve had psychosis. Mental illness is scarier than most physical illnesses and I just cannot understand what goes through the minds of intelligent business people.

“We are still in the dark ages if some of the biggest companies in this country…think that it’s acceptable to sell something like this. It’s unacceptable on every level.”


1.) Why is so much stigma still attached to issues of mental health?
2.) Where should the line be drawn between appropriate and inappropriate Halloween costumes and who should decide this?
3.) What effect does it have when celebrities become involved in a cause?
4.) How can we raise awareness about mental health within our school?

Related resources

Stress and depression

  • Encourage healthy discussion of stress and depression with this lesson on causes, symptoms and treatment.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

  • Use this unit plan to explore the stage adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel about life in a mental hospital.

De-stigmatising mental health

  • Present facts about the nature of mental illness amongst young people, as well as ideas on how to reduce stigma in your school community.

Mental health: Depression and anxiety

  • Introduce and discuss mental health issues with this presentation, which includes video links.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

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