Asylum, Thorpe Park's Halloween maze, is stigmatising to mental illness, but the park have stated that they will not rename or close the attraction as they haven't received a "serious level of complaint". In taking this stance, Merlin Entertainments demonstrate that they are more interested in profits than in reducing the harm their attractions do to real people.
I am a student mental health nurse, and I have had clinical depression for more than half of my life. I launched this campaign in the hope of demonstrating to Thorpe Park what a "serious level of complaint" looks like.
I'm not out to ruin anyone's Halloween - I'm a big fan of theme parks and rollercoasters, and love adrenaline-pumping fun as much as the people defending the maze. All I'm asking is that Thorpe Park stop using mental illness to boost their profits, by closing or renaming the Asylum maze. I don't consider any other part of their Fright Night attraction to be stigmatising, so I have no problem with the rest of it or the park in general! Fright Night features six attractions, so losing Asylum wouldn't be ruining Hallowe'en at all.
Thorpe Park have made a connection between a scary maze and mental health problems, by referring to their actors as patients "taking over" an asylum. I am standing against Thorpe Park in this matter because I feel it's really damaging to the public perception of what people with mental illnesses, such as myself, are like.
However, Thorpe Park have excused the maze, claiming that Asylum is "a fantastical experience which is not intended to be a realistic portrayal of a mental health institution" (and yet they refuse to accept the stigma they are perpetuating).
By stark contrast, Asda recently responded to similar accusations of perpetuating stigma by removing the offending products from sale and donating the £25,000 they would have taken in profits to mental health charities.
Please join me in demanding that Thorpe Park issue a proper apology for the offence and damage they have caused, as well as closing or renaming the attraction, and making a donation to Time to Change, a charity which fights mental health stigma.
There are several ways that this would be possible, that would cost little to no money:
1) Deliver a proper apology for the harm caused by evoking the “scary mental patient stereotype – no excuses, no hedging, no fudging, no "we're sorry but..." - ideally from the top of the company.
2) Put your name to the Time to Change mental health pledge, get involved with other anti-stigma actions and encourage your staff to do so too.
3) Invite mental health charities to hand out leaflets at the park, host an information stall at the park, and/or discuss what further steps would help improve the mental wellbeing of management, staff and customers.
There are also steps that would involve expenditure which you could consider:
1) Retire "The Asylum", bringing in a new maze based on one of the many other horror films that exist but do not stigmatise mental illness.
2) Donate the profits from this year’s "The Asylum" to a mental health charity such as Rethink Mental Illness or Mind.
3) Provide training and support (for instance, through mental health charity Mind), including: mental health awareness training for the senior management team, PR team and HR department; making mental health support services available to all staff; and training staff in mental health first aid (in addition to physical first aid).
We also ask that you engage with the signatories of the Royal College of Psychiatry/Lancet Psychiatry open letter moving forwards, perhaps consulting them on your ideas for a replacement for "The Asylum" in the 2014 season.