Costumes which are deemed to be making light of and stigmatising mental health issues have come under the media spotlight again this week, after the BBC focused on a number of potentially controversial costumes which are listed on Escapade.co.uk.
The costume which has gained the most attention is Smiffys ‘psychotic nympho’, which is listed on the supplier’s site as as ‘sexy straitjacket costume’. However, the Halloween outfit has been criticised by psychiatrists, with the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Wendy Burn, claiming it was “one of the worst I’ve seen.”
Dr Tony Rao, a psychiatrist and member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, bought the costumes to the industry’s attention on Twitter last week, saying that: “This year’s Halloween has far fewer offensive costumes but @Escapade_UK bucks the trend with not 1 but 2 of them.”
A number of other mental health professionals were quick to back him up, even setting up a Change.org petition entitled: ‘Stop Escapade Selling Stigmatising Costumes’. So far, 415 people have signed the petition.
Dr Rao later told the BBC that outfits of this kind stigmatised those with mental illnesses by suggesting people should be afraid of them. “As a society, we have made huge progress in portraying positive images of mental health. Sadly, this can easily be undone by promoting stereotypes that can be both damaging and demeaning to people with mental illness.”
Other costumes which have come under fire on the Escapade website include a ‘Psycho Nurse Sally’ costume, from Leg Avenue.
Joyce Mallow, marketing and communications for Leg Avenue, said: “The party industry has always experienced a link between so-called ‘psycho’ and Halloween. In this market this has been the iconic image of Halloween over many years, even decades. Halloween is a party where everything is magnified to answer to certain horror fantasies people have. It’s a shame that critics go beyond the cultural character of Halloween.”
Bhupendra Maisuria, owner of Camden-based Escapade, has said the retailer would continue selling the costumes and that its stance on these controversial costumes remains as it was in 2013, as outlined in this blog entry.
He also told PartyWorldwide that Escapade refuted the statements attributed to the company in the Buzzfeed article, saying that; “There’s no-one in Escapade who would make statements such as ‘mentally ill people are scary’. I’m sure this was added to cause controversy, offence and sell newspapers.”
However, the retailer has responded to criticisms of a burnt zombie child costume which was deemed a step too far following the Grenfell Tower tragedy. “This costume has been on sale since 2015 and was in no way purchased to reflect recent tragedies,” explained Bhupendra.
“We did not see the correlation between the event and item and are appalled by the article trying to make the link. However now this has been bought to our attention, the burnt Zombie child will be withdrawn from sale immediately,” he continued.
In 2013 a number of retailers – including Tesco and Asda – withdrew their ‘psycho ward’ and ‘mental patient’ outfits following a number of complaints. Online retail giant Amazon has also been criticised for selling ‘Insane Asylum’ and ‘Mental Illness’ costumes in the past.