Thorpe Park has defended their Halloween attraction “The Asylum”, despite claims from individuals that it stigmatizes mental health patients.
Amongst those concerned over the potential impact of the attraction are the mental health charities Mind, Time to Change, and Rethink Illness. They argue that Thorpe Park have failed to take into account several factors, including: ‘the history of mental health institutions, and the continuing suffering of patients in substandard facilities worldwide; second, the fact that attractions…don’t just “[draw] on classic horror film content” but shape culture as a whole; and third, the sheer extent of the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health problems every day.’
They therefore suggest that Thorpe Park are making light of a very serious topic, disregarding the fact that many mental health patients are still unable to find adequate treatment in asylums all over the world.
In a recent study, carried out by the Mental Health and Justice Researchers group, it was shown that those who suffer from mental illness were more susceptible to become victims of assault than those within the general population. According to this study, 45% of those with severe mental illness were victims of crime over the course of one year. This is contrary to the myth perpetuated by Thorpe Park and “The Asylum”, which casts mental health patients as being the instigators of violence. This study suggests that the opposite is true.
Thorpe Park have stated that they believe “the maze is not intended, nor is it deemed by those who have actually experienced it, to be in any way offensive or to be a realistic portrayal of a mental health or indeed any other institution”. But this seems to ignore both the overwhelming response on social media in condemning the attraction, and Thorpe Park’s own responsibility in shaping popular culture.
Individuals who have commented on this issue online include mental health activists, charities, psychiatrists, and members of the general public.
Charlotte Walker (known also by her Twitter handle @BipolarBlogger) is a mental health activist and expert on mental illness. She argues: ‘any reference to “patients” being dangerous or frightening feeds into a myth that leads to people with mental health problems being shunned and stigmatised.’
In another statement on her blog, she concedes that “it is probably too late to simply pull “The Asylum.” She instead suggests that Thorpe Park should make amends by discontinuing it next year. In addition, she also proposes that Thorpe Park consider donating the proceeds raised from the ride to mental health charities, who are responsible for battling discrimination against those suffering from mental illnesses.
The tabloid newspaper The Sun were recently forced to apologize over a similar misrepresentation of those suffering from mental illness. Their headline “1200 killed by mental health patients” was responsible for reinforcing the same negative stereotype of mental health patients that “The Asylum” seems to support.
Fortunately, after much backlash, The Sun saw the error of their ways. But those responsible at Thorpe Park are still reluctant to admit that they have made a mistake.
The online petition ‘Thorpe Park: Close down the stigmatising Asylum maze’ currently has 5,171 supporters on Change.org. With pressure mounting, it remains to be seen whether Thorpe Park will apologize for the offence they have caused.
Written by Jack Yarwood