NTS apologises for ‘escape from asylum’ fundraiser at Crathes Castle

Crathes Castle.
Crathes Castle.
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The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) last night caved in to pressure from mental health campaigners to scrap a controversial fundraising “mental asylum escape game” due to be held at one of its castles.

Escape at Crathes, which was planned for Crathes Castle near Banchory in Aberdeenshire, on 28 and 29 July was advertised as a fun event allowing participants to “step back in time” as they were “locked in to a 1950s asylum”.

The event advertised on the trust’s website and on Facebook then says those taking part in the 30-minute sessions costing £60 for groups of ten participants can “read through patients’ notes and try to escape ... the aim of the game is to escape before the morning med round begins”.

However, the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) Scotland, which campaigns for social justice and equality in mental health, said the event and the thinking behind it was “tasteless and highly ill-judged” and called for it to be scrapped.

Last night the trust issued an apology for the distress caused and said it would alter the format of the event.

Neil Oliver – the television presenter and historian who was appointed the trust’s president last year – is also an ambassador in Scotland for Combat Stress, the UK’s leading charity for veterans’ mental health.

The row comes as charities prepare to launch Mental Health Awareness Week running from 14-20 May.

Toni Giugliano, policy manager at MHF Scotland, said organisations such as the National Trust for Scotland should have a better awareness of mental health.

“The game, which until yesterday afternoon was planned for Crathes, stigmatises people with mental health problems,” he said. “There will be many people with mental health problems who are either in hospital or in care for many different reasons. It’s important we don’t stigmatise their care, treatment and recovery. This sort of event would cause distress to someone with a mental health problem and, at time when more and more people are coming forward, this kind of language may actually prevent them seeking help.”

Mr Giugliano added: “One in four of us have or will have mental health problems. It’s all around us and can feel very acute and severe for those experiencing it.

“We would like the trust to demonstrate its commitment to mental health issues by lighting up one of its properties in Scotland green, joining other organisations doing the same thing to mark Mental Health Awareness Week.”

A trust spokeswoman said properties booked their own events, using their own judgment about what works for their space and audience.

James Henderson, NTS operations manager for Aberdeenshire, said: “We are sorry that the scenario for this event has caused concern. We would not want to contribute to any stigma or misperceptions around mental health and have asked the event provider to alter the setting.”

Speaking about his work during a visit to Hollybush House, the Combat Stress treatment centre in Ayr, Mr Oliver said: “Regardless of age, gender and conflict, the trauma of war can have a devastating and debilitating effect.”