Costume Drama


“The world’s gone mad”. Are you allowed to say that any more?

The supermarket chains Tesco and Asda have withdrawn Halloween outfits called “mental patient fancy dress costume”. They were criticized for stigmatizing people with mental health issues. Both stores apologized for any offence caused and agreed to make donations to the mental health charity, Mind.

Clearly, selling scary “mental patient” Halloween costumes is insensitive but look around, mental illness is being used everywhere to sell products, services and political philosophy.

Businesses are advertising “crazy prices”, they go “completely bargain bonkers” or suffer from “March Madness”. In New Zealand we bought meat from “The Mad Butcher”, in Australia we got our DIY supplies from “Mad Barry’s” and in the UK we drink in a pub called “The Mad Hatter”.

We listen to songs about mental illness including “She Drives Me Crazy”, “Mad About the Boy” and “Psycho Killer”. Musicians call themselves “Madness”, “Mental as Anything” and “The Crazy World of Arthur Brown”. We watch TV shows and movies called “Mad Max”, “Stir Crazy” and “Mad Men”.

Politicians describe their opposition’s policies as “barking mad”, extreme socialist views are described as coming from the “loony left” and we even have a Monster Raving Loony Party!

Our obsession with mental illness probably started as kids. We regularly told friends, enemies and siblings that they had mental health issues. My friends and I had no psychiatric training but we’d regularly diagnose anyone who showed abnormal or unwanted behavior as a “div”, a “doid” or a ,“clunck”.  We also used the word “loony” a lot. That isn’t surprising considering we watched cartoons called “Loony Tunes” and our favorite TV show was ‘The Goodies’ and they were always talking about carting people off to the “loony bin”.

“Loony bin” is an offensive term now and so it should be. I’m ashamed to admit that when we were kids, that’s what we used to call our local mental hospital at a place called Winwick. The second ‘w’ is silent, so it’s pronounced “Win-ick”, which meant it fit perfectly into a song we sang in conga lines, “Let’s all go to Win-ick, it’s our favorite clin-ic. La la, la la…”

Tesco and Asda are in the business of giving people what they want. At Halloween we want to dress up in scary costumes. Why are mental patients scary? Do we have a fear of mental patients breaking into our home and hurting us? That’s an irrational fear or what psychiatrists call, a phobia, which is a mental disorder.

I’m still not sure if we should be allowed to say, “The world’s gone mad”. Would it be better to just say the world is ‘bi-polar’?

Craic on!

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