In My Opinion: Ellen Arnison: We all need to mind our language when it comes to mental illness

THE supermarket giants, Asda and Tesco, have just issued humble apologies after their adult fancy dress ranges were discovered to include ‘mental patient’ and ‘psycho ward costumes.

Of course, it’s outrageous and offensive. Some huge number of adults in the UK will, at some point, have a mental illness. And none of us resembles the blood-soaked horror that was previously available in a supermarket near you. Obviously.

I saw the Asda costume online when a friend shared it on Facebook and spluttered in astonishment. Within minutes, there were tens of thousands of views of the offensive product across every social media network.

But then, at second examination, among the comments and the sharers were those who LOLed or were PMSL at the whole thing.

Apparently, for some, the idea of ‘mental wards’ full of terrifying and dangerous inmates is either an acceptable cliché or hilariously funny… or perhaps both.

After all, why did the huge supermarkets (who know a thing or two about what people want to buy) put them on sale in the first place? It would be interesting to know how many they sold before the thing went viral.

Think about it. How often do you use the language of insult and humour to describe mental illness (real or apparent)? She’s crazy, he’s nuts, bonkers and loopy? The use of such expressions is just a place on the continuum to the very real discrimination and stigma that harms people with mental illnesses every single day.

Even now, days later, when the voice of reason has staged a remarkable comeback, there are unsettling voices muttering things like “have we all lost our sense of humour”, “I don’t see what the fuss is all about”, “what a crazy over-reaction” and “isn’t it time to move on?”.

You see, there are still people who don’t see what the fuss is all about. They believe mental illness, and those who suffer from it, is a joke. These are the ones now who don’t understand why #mentalpatient is still trending on Twitter and who all these people are to post pictures of themselves.

I know that’s not the majority of us – we are, of course, aware that mental illness can (and does) affect anyone and there’s no shame. However, as long as we’re still carelessly sniggering at the crazies, joking about the lunatics or privately (naively) thinking that it’s something that happens to other people, then we’re just as guilty as those who think the fancy dress costumes were funny.

Ellen Arnison worked for the Daily Star of Scotland and the Scottish Daily Mirror. She now works freelance, including writing, subbing, search engine optimisation, brand journalism, ghost blogging, blogging, copywriting and social media. She is the author of ‘Blogging for Happiness: A Guide to Improving Positive Mental Health (and Wealth) from Your Blog’.