By Michael Mander

Mental health campaigners are fighting for the removal of ‘Asylum’ from Thorpe Park’s Halloween line up for the negative stigma it attaches to mental health.

For years, mental health charities have fought to remove the stigma attached to mental health problems. “Mental patient fancy dress costumes” was quickly removed from the shelves of Asda and Tesco earlier this year: and yet Thorpe Park has ran the ‘Asylum’ maze for eight years without complaint.

This year, charities and individuals are campaigning to remove the maze from Thorpe Park.

Sectioned‘ is a prolific mental health tweeter. Her views are informed by recent personal experience, having been detained in 2011 in one of the UK’s busiest acute psychiatric hospitals. She described why Asylum is such a set-back in her attempts to remove the stigma attached to mental health: “Yet again, a high profile British business is showing staggering insensitivity to the harmful effects of evoking negative stereotypes to make money.”

“So, if Thorpe Park thinks it’s okay to make money from ridiculing and demonising a stigmatised group who face discrimination – and worse – daily, who else does it think is fair game? Now discrimination against people on the basis of race or sexuality is no longer part of the mainstream, who’s left? Which vulnerable groups can be picked on without fear of criticism? Clearly it’s people with mental health problems, as Thorpe Park’s Asylum shows.”

"Is this how Thorpe Park customers think I look?" asks 'Sanctioned'.

“Is this how Thorpe Park customers think I look?” asks ‘Sectioned’.

Katie Sutton, from Stockport, started a petition on Change.org to remove the Asylum maze two days ago. In that time, the petitions has reached almost 100 signatures. The petition demands Thorpe Park closes the “stigmatising Asylum maze”, issue an apology, and make a donation to Time to Change.

She told Airgates: “I started the petition because I noticed that Thorpe Park kept saying over and over again that they hadn’t received a significant level of complaint about the maze”.

Katie wanted to show Thorpe Park that there was a significant complaint. She says “It’s now time for Thorpe to stop pretending it’s not a big deal, and admit they were wrong.”

Time to Change is a mental health anti-stigma programme run collectively by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. The director of the programme, Sue Baker, said:  “Imagine how you’d feel if you, or a member of your family, had just been in a psychiatric hospital and were enjoying a fun day out, only to be faced with this type of ‘entertainment?”

“We are finally starting to see attitudes change and there is a shift in the public mood.   What these ‘attractions’ highlight is that there is still work to be done in tackling mental health stigma and discrimination and we’d encourage people to challenge these outdated stereotypes that only serve to reinforce negative views of those who experience mental health problems.”

HIV maze? Facebook post from an outraged fan.

HIV maze? Facebook post from an outraged fan.

In response to complaints on Facebook, Thorpe Park has said: “We’re really sorry for any offence our Asylum maze may have caused – that was certainly not our intention.”

“However, it has been a key element of our Fright Nights maze offerings for the past 8 years [and] it has never attracted any serious level of complaint.”

They added on Twitter: “Asylum is one of our most popular mazes and will remain this year.”

Thorpe Park called the maze: “entirely fantastical”

Others agree with Thorpe Park in the debate. On Facebook, Claire Joanne Thomas said: ” If you don’t like it, don’t go on it. No one’s saying anything about The Sanctuary at Alton towers though… Just saying!”.

Craig Hayden Davies on Twitter said of the #AsylumNO campaign: “Never heard so much **** in all my life. Get over it, I went last week and I couldn’t recommend anything better!!”

“If only certain members of the public knew how to have fun”

In an open letter to the park, Charlotte Walker (a ’30-something mother living with bipolar disorder’) said: “Every time someone runs a stunt like this, it sets us back. It reinforces the stigma around mental illness and false stereotypes that make us more likely to be the victims of crime and discrimination.”

“Thorpe Park needs to wake up to the fact that this 2013, not 1913.”

Campaigners want Thorpe Park to change Asylum's theming back to The Freezer (image source: Total Thorpe Park)

Campaigners want Thorpe Park to change Asylum’s theming back to The Freezer (image source: Total Thorpe Park)

ScareTourUK defended the attraction, saying: “We believe that most customers are educated in their own right to understand that these attractions are far removed from everyday real life and that they aren’t meant to be a true depiction of those suffering from mental illness”.

Thorpe Park aren’t the only park to make a horror maze of mental health. Farmaggedon in Lancashire has two mazes with the same theme: Psychosis and Insanity. Primevil Scare, in Norfolk, has Insanitarium (“The inmates have overrun the guards, and are out of control!”).

Over the last two days, campaigners have used Wikipedia to get their word out: adding that the park “attracted a wave of negative criticism” regarding its Asylum attraction. An anonymous Wikipedia user located in Surrey repeatedly removes the claims.

Update: Thorpe Park today released a statement: “These comments are not universally representative either of many of our guests who have given us very positive feedback, or of others working within the mental health sector.”

“Unlike the other examples given (Tesco and Asda), the maze is not something you might happen upon when out shopping. It is set within a single closed environment and is a very small element of an event aimed at adult visitors – all of whom chose to visit, and have paid for entry to the overall event. ”

“This maze is also in its 8th year of operation and is an obviously extreme and simulated experience which draws on classic horror film content. It is not intended, nor is it deemed to be 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.”

 

Share your views on these mazes with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Categories: Airgates

Michael Mander

I mainly cover Thorpe Park, Alton Towers, Adventure Island, Paramount London and other attractions in the south of England. Contact me at: Michael@Airgates.co.uk

21 Comments

nick rhodes · 20th October 2013 at 8:31 pm

Thorpe Park’s repeated statement that their Asylum has never attracted serious criticism in its 8 year life is in my opinion another way of simply saying “We don’t take your criticism seriously”. If the number of tweets, emails, etc they must have received this week is not a serious level of criticism I don’t know what is!

    Michael Mander · 20th October 2013 at 9:10 pm

    Thanks for your comment Nick. I’ll be speaking to someone from TP’s press office tomorrow and I’ll pose this to them.

      nick rhodes · 20th October 2013 at 9:18 pm

      Thanks Michael. I’ll be interested to hear their response. There was also a very critical discussion thread about Asylum on Mumsnet in August 2012 – over a year ago – on which similar points were made, so clearly it’s not the case that this recent wave of criticism is the first time Asylum’s caused offence.

        Michael Mander · 20th October 2013 at 9:23 pm

        Oh yes, thanks for pointing that out: just found it. Even then the maze had been running for seven years: funny how the criticism is only very recent.

          AndyPlatt · 20th October 2013 at 11:00 pm

          I think part of the reason why criticism has only occurred recently is that people with mental health problems as a group are not the most confident of people but that is now changing. In the past I think we’d have been put off by the ‘where’s your sense of humour?’ claptrap we’re getting now.

          nick rhodes · 21st October 2013 at 1:07 am

          I agree with AndyPlatt. The fact that Asylum’s getting criticised now as never before is an encouraging sign that society’s waking up to mental health issues, and the MH community is finding a stronger voice. In other words it is NOT, as I suspect Thorpe Park would have you believe, an indication that the current level of criticism is just a blip – they argue this criticism has not arisen before and they reckon it is therefore misguided, a bit of passing froth. They are wrong. The poll in the EDP about the ‘Insanitarium’ at the Dinosaur Adventure Park http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/health/poll_is_the_dinosaur_adventure_park_fuelling_mental_health_stigma_with_its_insanitorium_event_1_2882960
          has 39% of people agreeing that it reinforces stigma. A minority, yes, but probably a larger percentage than it would have been a few years ago, because of increasing awareness. A healthy trend, perhaps – and one which Thorpe Park and the others have the chance to assist with by showing a bit of sensitivity.

          Haters are idiots · 22nd October 2013 at 6:25 pm

          Orrrrrr, you could just shut up and not go through the maze. Very few people with mental health issues care. Myself included. The whole of the theme park enthusiast community is laughing at your stupidity, you people are the reason we all hate the general public and wish you’d just stay at home and be haters about things that matter. In fact, you make the enthusiasts despair for humanity. Making me so angry, you are attacking an innocent park, they haven’t tried to upset anyone, and if you’re upset then you’re pathetic. If they have to close this, then they would have to close the new coaster at Towers The Smiler cause its based on the idea of treating mental health issues. So, you gonna be giving them the 18 million they just spent to build it so they can replace it?

          nick rhodes · 22nd October 2013 at 10:42 pm

          Thanks for that. The news that you “hate the general public” is genuinely enlightening.

          Halloween's for Idiots · 23rd October 2013 at 7:44 pm

          The “theme park enthusiast community” hates the “general public”! Oh no!! Seriously, have you understood any of the issues involved at all? Or actually read the article in its entirety? You may have noticed the campaign merely wants your play-maze renamed so the theme isn’t on stigmatising innocent people (a bit like the way the nasty doctors and campaigners are stigmatising your “innocent park”!!!). I hope that stops you fans of the SuperFunTime park experience from despairing for humanity too much and curbs your anger. Personally, things like genocide make me despair for humanity but, hey-ho, each to their own

          nick rhodes · 22nd October 2013 at 10:46 pm

          Another debate has begun on Mumsnet this week, as it happens.

          http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/_chat/1888960-Thorpe-Parks-mental-asylum-attraction?pg=1

    Me · 21st October 2013 at 2:42 pm

    The so called petition has what 100 signatures? That probably the amount of people which go through the asylum every 20/30 minutes… Puts that into perspective a little 🙂

      Halloween's for Idiots · 23rd October 2013 at 7:47 pm

      The “so-called petition” currently has 3547 signatures actually

Jamie · 21st October 2013 at 10:02 am

The Asylum has been a solid attraction at Fright Nights for 8 years. It is not offensive, there are loads of mazes based on similar things around the world.
It is a brilliant attraction (the best scare maze the park has to offer), and if I see it closed next year because of pathetic people who are just out to ruin things for the majority of (well basically all of) the guests who want to enjoy it then I will not be happy.

STAY AWAY from Thorpe Park’s event if if “offends” you, but to be honest NOBODY, and I repeat NOBODY is going to come out of that maze and think that people with mental health issues are really like that. It is pretend, great fun and should be treated lightheartedly.
Please stop ruining people’s enjoyment – we need it in life.

    nick rhodes · 21st October 2013 at 11:59 pm

    I absolutely agree we need fun, enjoyment, light-heartedness. But there must be plenty of ways to create fun that don’t stigmatize vulnerable groups. If not the designers must lack imagination!

      Jamie · 22nd October 2013 at 6:30 pm

      The Asylum is not stigmatizing vulnerable groups in any way.
      Have you ever been in the maze? It’s not about people suffering from mental health issues – it’s actually a chaotic journey through a big strobe lit room with live actors who are supposed to be lunatics coming out from different places and scaring you.
      Lunatics are not real. They are in films, and many horror attractions around the world and are a completely fictional invention – the park do not say anywhere that these actors are supposed to be people who suffer from mental health issues.

      You are saying that the park are targeting these groups – they aren’t. Have you been in the maze? These actors do not represent in any way people suffering from mental health issues – in fact I think that the original story (when the maze first opened 8 years ago) was that a building that used to be an Asylum has been broken into by lunatics. These are NOT mental health patients, and there is nothing wrong with the maze or theme/name.

      The Asylum is enjoyed by hundreds of people every day it’s open, you would be upsetting a lot more people by closing it.

Stephen Marlow · 22nd October 2013 at 6:00 pm

I feel it’s a bit of a publicity stunt as it’s already made the top 10 most read on BBC. However, it is a little ridiculous. I for one see it as not something to be taken seriously and is just a form of entertainment (I can name a fair few horror films that portray mental health in a worse way). There’s a difference between reality and entertainment, and I feel people who go in this maze will be smart enough to realise that.

Grrrrrrrrr · 22nd October 2013 at 6:18 pm

That’s right, its not okay to base a maze on a theme that has been done by horror films for years and years. Its not okay to have fun on Halloween, and its not okay for it to run for eight years. [/sarcasm] Seriously people, grow up. If you are that bothered by it, DON’T GO THROUGH THE MAZE. Its really simple, I find Romances offensive, cruel and unrealistic because my love life isn’t perfect, should we be banning them? I have mental health issues and I don’t think there is anything wrong with basing an attraction on hospitals. The Sanctuary is based on a similar idea, and no one has complained about that. If you are that pathetic that you want to shut down the event’s main attraction, then you should probably get out more. How many of you haters have actually been through the maze to see how they portray the patients? None. So stfu. The maze is purely for a bit of fun, and will probably be shut soon anyway due to its age, stop complaining and experience it before you make an opinion.

Halloween: What’s wrong with evoking the “scary mental patient” stereotype? | Sectioned · 21st October 2013 at 12:56 am

[…] Attraction News – Is it okay to base horror mazes on mental health? (Sunday 20th […]

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[…] Airgates Attraction news – Is it okay to base horror mazes on mental health? […]

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