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Asda makes donation in costume row

Asda is to make a £25,000 donation to the mental health charity Mind after apologising for selling a "mental patient fancy dress costume".

A spokesman for the supermarket giant declined to elaborate on the donation, other than saying: "This is a sincere gesture to apologise for the offence. We want to do this for the right reasons and not for publicity."

The Halloween costume, which is designed to look like a blood-splattered straitjacket with ragged edges, was on sale for £20 through the supermarket's clothing arm George.

Asda's apology was quickly followed by Tesco, who said it was "really sorry for any offence caused" by an adult bright orange costume called "Psycho Ward" with the word "Committed" printed on the back.

A Tesco spokeswoman said: "We're really sorry for any offence this has caused and we are removing this product from sale."

Many took to Twitter to express their disgust at Asda's description, including former footballer Stan Collymore, who has fought a well-documented battle with depression.

He tweeted: "Dear ASDA, nice stereotype of 'Mental patients'. Something you'd expect from the ###. A f****** joke."

"Do you actually realise how many people are hanging themselves because of being frightened of the stigma? Wording is CLEAR. MENTAL PATIENT."

Asda apologised for the incident in a series of tweets and said it would be making a donation to mental health charity Mind.

The company said: "We're deeply sorry one of our fancy dress costumes has upset people. This was an unacceptable error - the product was withdrawn immediately.

"We'd like to offer our sincere apologies for the offence it's caused and will be making a sizeable donation to MindCharity.

"We removed the product from our website this afternoon but unfortunately the page may remain visible for a few more hours."

Former 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 1 in 4 people who experience mental health problems in any given year?

"Dear asda, how on earth did you come to the conclusion that this is an appropriate fancy dress costume? Disgraceful."

Sue Baker, campaigner for mental health charity Mind, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Nine out of 10 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 in England today 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.

"(Asda) certainly crossed the line here and I hear it might well have been changed with the addition of mental patient, so it was definitely being used to tap into negative stereotypes."

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 completely 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 another child's "psycho surgeon" set shows a shirt and trouser set smeared with red paint.

Amazon was unavailable for comment.

Alastair Campbell told BBC London 94.9: "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 just cannot understand what goes through the minds of intelligent business people who sit down...these things don't happen because one person decides to do it, they have discussions they have planning 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.

"We are trying to change attitudes towards mental illness so people do not stigmatise it and something like this comes along and it just reminds you we are basically still in the dark ages, we are still in the dark ages if some of the biggest companies in this country - Tesco, Asda, Amazon - think that it's acceptable to sell something like this. It's unacceptable on every level."

Lucie Russell, director of campaigns at the charity YoungMinds, said: " Asda has made a huge error of judgment in marketing this costume as 'mental health patient'. This costume just makes it harder for children and young people to speak out and get help about mental health.

"One in 10 children and young people have a diagnosable mental health problem, with many more out there struggling without being diagnosed. We need to create a climate of support around children and young people, not fear."

Asda's donation will be going to the Time to Change anti-stigma campaign run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

Ms Baker, who is the director of the campaign, said: " It's a welcome move that Asda has reacted promptly by apologising and offering the contribution to Time to Change, and we hope that Tesco and other retailers and manufacturers follow suit.

"However, what we really want to see is more proactive support for Time to Change by signing up to our programme and making a significant commitment to working with their staff and huge customer base to tackle mental health stigma and discrimination. We hope to continue this dialogue with Asda so we can work together to achieve this more meaningful contribution. We've seen organisations in almost all other sectors pledge to end stigma, but not major retailers - this is now the time for them to step up."

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