Archive for Asda

Ignorance + Fear = Prejudice

Posted in Biographical with tags , , on September 26, 2013 by telescoper

george-mental-patient-1-522x293

The charming costume displayed above was advertised by Asda as part of their Halloween “Fancy Dress” range, along with this explanatory text:

Every one (sic) will be running away from you in fear in this mental patient fancy dress costume.

In fact in response to a deluge of critical comments, Asda has now withdrawn the offensive article but one still wonders who could have thought this was a good idea in the first place.

Years ago when I lived in London I served on the Governing Body of a residential home in Hackney for people with a range of mental health issues. Doing this opened my eyes to the level of prejudice that exists about mental health. I remember one example very vividly. After months of training to try to help one of the residents live a little more independently, she finally plucked up courage to take a trip on the bus. She bought her ticket and sat upstairs. Unfortunately, she got a bit confused and missed her stop. She then started to panic and burst into tears. The reaction of the people on the bus was at first to ignore her distress and then when got worse to forcible restrain her. The bus was stopped and eventually the police were called. She was eventually found by staff from the home in a police cell in a state of complete disarray. Months of good work had been undone.

So why had the other passengers behaved in such a way? I think the answer to that is that many people are very frightened by mental illness because they don’t understand it. Fear is often born of ignorance in other situations too, but it’s particularly striking in public settings, such as on a bus or train. In modern life we have to cope with complete strangers in many places and I think we rely on behavioural conventions to deal with the proximity of other individuals that we might otherwise suppose to be hostile. When people start violating these conventions – as one may do if suffering a mental illness – then we often respond in a way that reflects our prejudice that they might be dangerous, even though that is extremely unlikely. It’s the sane that we have to fear most.

That was way back in the 1980s. We like to think that times have changed in so many respects, but the appearance of that Asda `Mental Patient’ demonstrates that our attitudes towards mental illness are firmly rooted in the days when thousands were kept at a safe distance by being incarcerated in lunatic asylums. The stereotypical straitjacket `costume’ panders to ignorance, promotes fear, and encourages prejudice. It is truly offensive. It is Time to Change our attitudes.

For the record, here’s a picture of me taken late last summer in my own Mental Patient Costume:

me

And death is now my neighbour

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 20, 2012 by telescoper

I find myself in a very strange mood this morning after the horrendous events that unfolded in Cardiff late yesterday afternoon during the Friday rush hour. I didn’t know anything about them at the time, and even several hours later the picture was extremely confused. Stories were flying around that many people had been killed by a man in a white van who had been driving around deliberately running over pedestrians in Ely, which is to the west of Cardiff city centre.

This morning a slightly clearer picture has emerged. One person was killed but fourteen were injured, some of them critically. Five children are among those injured, the youngest just 23 months old. The University Hospital at Cardiff has this morning appealed for emergency blood donations as supplies are running short.  Grim.

The driver of the white van has been taken into custody on suspicion of murder, but his motives remain (for now) a mystery. It seems he went berserk after an incident at or near the Asda supermarket in Leckwith and went on the rampage, deliberately trying to run over pedestrians (including women and children) until stopped.

Here is a map of the area:

If you look at the top right-hand corner of the map you can see the cricket ground at Sophia Gardens; my house is to the North-West of that, near the slight kink in the main road (Cathedral Road) that runs by the stadium.  The Cardiff City football ground can be seen near the caption marked “Sloper Road”. That’s about 20 minutes’ walk from where I live.

I was several miles away at the time, so was never in any danger, but even from a such a distance it’s very disturbing when familiar “safe” places become sites of violence and destruction. Most of the time life seems so secure, but things like this show how fragile it can be. I can’t even begin to imagine what people must be feeling who experienced those events first hand.

It’s been a lovely sunny morning this morning, but there’s a palpable sense of shock around the neighbourhood. I think it’s the incomprehensibility more than anything. Why would someone do such things? What on Earth was going through his mind? Perhaps the Police investigation will provide answers. In the meantime  all I can do is post my sincerest condolences to the loved ones of the person who was killed, and wish a speedy and complete recovery for all those injured or traumatised by what they saw.