Asda is to make a £25,000 donation to the mental health charity Mind after apologising for selling a “mental patient fancy dress costume”.
The £20 Halloween costume, which was designed to look like a blood-splattered straitjacket with ragged edges, sparked a row when it went on sale though the supermarket’s clothing arm George.
Asda’s apology was quickly followed by one from Tesco, which said it was “really sorry for any offence caused” by an adult bright orange costume called “Psycho Ward” with the word “Committed” on the back.
Both companies withdrew the products from sale.
Many took to Twitter to express their disgust at the Halloween costumes, including former footballer Stan Collymore, who has fought a well-documented battle with depression.
He tweeted: “Dear Asda, nice stereotype of ‘mental patients’. Do you actually realise how many people are hanging themselves because of being frightened of the stigma? Wording is CLEAR. MENTAL PATIENT.”
A spokesman for the supermarket said: “This is a sincere gesture to apologise for the offence. We want to do this for the right reasons and not for publicity.”
A Tesco spokeswoman said: “We’re really sorry for any offence this has caused and we are removing this product from sale.”
Former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell, who has also suffered from depression, wrote on Twitter: “Look what Asda’s selling … what possesses these people?”
Katie Dalton, of Welsh mental health charity Gofal, tweeted: “Dear Asda, did you take 1 second to consider how it would affect the one in four people who experience mental health problems in any given year?”
Sue Baker, a campaigner for Mind, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Nine out of ten people using mental health services in patient care report stigma and discrimination from a range of sources.
“Stigma and discrimination is unfortunately still really damaging and this kind of myth of the dangerousness posed by people, that you should be scared of anyone who has used mental health services, is really damaging.”
Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity Sane, said: “We welcome Asda’s withdrawal of the costume, which could only serve to reinforce prejudice and misperceptions of mental illness, leaving those already struggling with mental health problems more lonely and excluded.”
Paul Jenkins, chief executive of the charity Rethink Mental Illness, said: “I am pleased to see Asda has now removed the costume from their website, but the fact it was ever there in the first place is unacceptable.
“This costume is breathtakingly insensitive, and it’s shocking that Asda ever felt it was an appropriate product to sell. There is already so much stigma surrounding mental illness, and ‘joke’ products like this only serve to make things worse.”
A number of traders on Amazon are also selling a range of “psycho” costumes for both adults and children.
One, listed as a “psycho costume”, consists of a white shirt covered in “blood”, while a child’s “psycho surgeon” set shows a shirt and trouser set smeared with red paint. Amazon was unavailable for comment.
Mr Campbell told the BBC: “Would you think it’s acceptable to have a cancer patient Halloween costume where you went around with needles in your arms saying you were having chemotherapy and you’re wearing a kind of bald wig, and would people think that was funny, acceptable or interesting banter for Halloween?
“It underlines to me that we treat mental illness like it’s not serious. I’ve had depression, I’ve had psychosis. Mental illness is scarier than most physical illnesses and I cannot understand what goes through the minds of intelligent business people who sit down and have planning meetings about how many should we order, how many will we sell?
“So intelligent business people are sitting down and not one of them at any point is saying, hold on a minute, this is not very clever.”