normanlamb‘Psycho’ Hallowe’en culture is ramping up fears of mental illness, and retailers should not sell costumes that demonise mental illness, Care Services Minister Norman Lamb has said. 

Several retailers have been criticised this year for stocking Hallowe’en costumes with names such as ‘Skitzo’ or ‘adult psycho ward’. These are stigmatising anyone with mental illness, Lamb will say in a speech to the National Child and Adult Services (NCAS) conference today.

“There is pressure for young people to be a certain way – from every TV, every computer screen and the constantly refreshing content accessible on their phones,” Lamb will say. The pressure is constant. 

“For me it is horrendous that, this Hallowe’en, a young person experiencing a mental health crisis could easily come across someone in a ‘psycho ward’ or ‘schizo patient’ costume – complete with handcuffs and ripped restraints – as much as they could see someone in a Dracula costume. 

“This Hallowe’en culture is dangerous. It conditions all of us to fear mental illness – to see people as ‘psychos’, or ‘schizos’ or ‘freaks’. It makes us believe that mental illness is something other worldly. 

“We have to tackle this damaging stigma which prevents young people from seeking help when they need it, or talking about any problems they might be having. 

“Everyone should be able to enjoy Hallowe’en but I urge all retailers to behave more responsibly – don’t demonise mental illness.”

Lucie Russell director of campaigns at YoungMinds, welcomed Lamb’s stance. “Retailers are making a huge error of judgment in marketing these costumes and it’s beyond belief that they haven’t learnt from the mass opposition to them when they appeared on the market last year. 

“These costumes make it so much harder for children and young people to speak out and get help about mental health - all they do is reinforce hugely negative stereotypes that people with mental health problems are dangerous and frightening when this is so far from reality. We need to create a climate of support around these desperate children and young people not fear. We hope retailers will see sense and withdraw these extremely offensive costumes immediately.”

Mike Dawson from Joker’s Masquerade, one of the companies criticised for selling these costumes – including by Lamb last week – has published a blog in response on the company’s website. While expressing his disappointment that Joker’s Masquerade was singled out for criticism – pointing to the fact that other retailers stock similar costumers – he added that the company “will not be forced into knee-jerk decisions, but are happy receive constructive criticism. These past days, we have listened to the mental health proponents and made various edits to criticised products. This has included renaming product titles, descriptions and category pages to dilute this sensitive area for some.

“We do not make it our intention to offend or incite outcry, though we appreciate that in this multi-cultural and multi-ethical world, many different people will have many different opinions and views.”