Home > Uncategorized > Psychiatrists Need Their Head Examined

Psychiatrists Need Their Head Examined

November 3, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

I want to try and write blog posts about the news in a silly tone, to put a lighthearted stance on the week’s events. However, this week I don’t feel I can talk about the news I heard in a silly way, because I am angry. And so this post will be angry. And I apologise in advance.

This week, it was Halloween, the night where ghouls and ghosts are said to roam the earth, and in response, everyone dresses up as sexy nurses and carves shapes into fruit. It’s a bizarre holiday, but it’s a pretty fun one.

Naturally, theme parks like to get in on the fun, and this includes Thorpe Park, who wanted to set up an “Asylum Maze” where visitors could wander around a maze based on a haunted lunatic asylum and get chased by actors in spooky costumes.

But mental health charities have said it’s massively offensive, that it furthers the stigma surrounding mental illness and that Thorpe Park should be ashamed of themselves.

And they are correct. This situation is massively offensive. I say this as someone who has experienced mental health problems over the years, with patches of depression and anxiety over long periods of my life. I say this as someone with a girlfriend who suffers anxiety, with friends who suffer from depression, and with family members with eating disorders. This situation is hugely offensive.

Not Thorpe Park’s actions, however. I honestly couldn’t care less if Thorpe Park made a SPOOKY ASYLUM attraction. The spooky asylum filled with axe-wielding psychopaths is very much a common horror image that has existed for years and years, and very rarely does anyone associate the spooky asylum with real-life mental illness sufferers. It’s just a thing we have, like vampires or ghosts or zombies.

No, I’m offended by the efforts of the mental health institutions to force Thorpe Park to change this attraction at the eleventh hour for no reason than one or two people feeling a little bit uneasy about it. I’m offended that they feel they’re speaking on behalf of people with actual mental health issues, who have a lot more on their plate to worry about instead of crap like this. And I’m also offended by the implication that everybody with a mental illness should be in an asylum.

That’s right, I’m going there. The mental health charities are essentially implying that everyone with a mental illness is going to be offended by the use of “asylum” in a horror context, which can only mean that everybody with a mental illness has therefore been to an asylum, or deserves to be in one.

To be honest, this stigmatises mental health more than a silly theme park ride ever will. Everyone knows a theme park ride is just entertainment and not trying to spread any kind of message, but when supposed “experts” seem to group everybody with mental illness as people who need to be in mental hospitals, what message does that send?

Mental illness comes in all forms, and generally many mental health sufferers are going to be those with things like anxiety disorders, or depression, or OCD, or otherwise fairly mild things that may impact on a person’s life, but can be dealt with without the need for a stay in a hospital.

The conditions that require a stay in a mental hospital, however, are generally more severe conditions that rule a person’s thought patterns to such a degree that they can become a danger to themselves and others. This is why the hospital stay is necessary, so that they can be treated in a secure environment where their progress can be fully monitored.

Essentially, I believe that claiming all mental health sufferers will be offended by the word “asylum” is the same as saying that everyone with a cold will be offended by the term “cancer ward”.

And here’s the thing, hospitals are scary, whether they’re mental institutions or otherwise. Horror plays on this. Vampires and zombies play on our fear of disease, just like the axe-crazy psychopath in a strait jacket plays on our lack of understanding of mental health issues and the idea that we could somehow lose control of our rational thought.

I feel it’s ridiculous to try and ban this image. This is not the first time we’ve seen this image. The movie Psycho has, well, that title, and took inspiration from the killings of a real psychopath, Ed Gein. Halloween featured the now-iconic serial killer Michael Myers, who escapes from a mental hospital and goes on a killing spree. Should we ban these movies? Where do you draw the line on this?

But do you know what I’m really offended by? The simple fact that mental health charities are wasting their time, money and effort on trivial theme park ride names, when this effort could be better spent on addressing the very real deficiencies in the British mental health system.

When someone approaches doctors for help in times of crisis, and they are bounced from doctor’s office to doctor’s office without ever actually speaking to anyone and instead have to turn to a private therapist, there are bigger problems to deal with.

When an anorexia patient only receives treatment for the physical ailments of not eating enough, and is told she is “fine” despite being stuck on a liquid diet and being horribly underweight and still suffering from dangerous self-esteem issues, there are bigger problems to deal with.

When health officials sit around discussing the number of beds in mental hospitals and don’t actually do anything to address outpatient treatment like the situations above, then there are bigger problems to deal with.

The real question that should be asked by the mental health charities is, have we really moved much further on from the Victorian asylums that inspired the horror trope in the first place? Because I think if they started asking themselves that question instead of badgering theme parks, they might find out some very interesting answers.

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