#AsylumNO – a message from the 1:4 people with a mental health condition

UPDATE – email to Nick Varney, CEO Merlin Entertainment

Dear Nick


It’s never my habit to go “straight to the top” – I believe in taking comments and complaints up through the chain of command.


But having been either ignored or fobbed off by @THORPEPARK on Twitter, Thorpe Park Guest Services and the Thorpe Park press liaison team, I’m coming to you. Below what I sent the press team earlier today – I’m pretty sure it’s something you’d like to know about,  given its potential impact on the Thorpe Park brand. It also links to what I sent to Guest Services, and their inadequate reply.


It’s impossible by this stage not to make comparisons with Tesco and Asda, and Thorpe Park/Merlin are giving the impression that, unlike those other major companies, they don’t like to listen. They are giving the impression that they refuse to consider that they might be out of step on this issue and that they do not care about the needs and opinions of the stigmatised yet sizeable minority that is the 1:4 people (and that’s a LOT of potential customers) with a mental health problem.. And above all, your companies give the impression that they could not care less when people raise legitimate concerns, to the extent that the @THORPEPARK Twitter feed is simply pretending that no negative tweets are coming their way.


I reiterate my question to Guest Services: is this kind of company that Thorpe Park, and its parent company Merlin, aspire to be?

Yours sincerely,

Charlotte Walker


Dear Thorpe Park press team,

Perhaps you saw that Asda and Tesco recently made headlines for all the wrong reasons after people with personal experience of mental health conditions, along with their carers, supporters and clinicians, strenuously objected to the sale of “mental patient” costumes. These costumes depicted “patients” as scary and frightening. This is utterly inappropriate in 2013 when there is ample evidence that far from being violent, people with a history of mental distress are more likely to be victims of violence. Any reference to “patients” being dangerous or frightening feeds into a myth that leads to people with mental health problems being shunned and stigmatised. As a community we refused to accept that money should be made out of furthering that stereotype and after the issue moved from online to mainstream media Tesco and Asda accepted we were right.

Imagine my horror then when I found out about Thorpe Park’s “Asylum” Fright Night. I discovered the issue via Twitter, where many other people were expressing dismay at the concept. Large numbers of us tweeted @THORPEPARK but all received the same cut/paste platitude along the lines that the Asylum is just meant to be “scary fun”, not a realistic inpatient unit (ah, yes, we had worked that one out) and that they were sorry “if any offence had been caused.” This message continued to be pasted every time someone tweeted their unhappiness with the Asylum until eventually your Twitter person gave up and began ignoring any negative tweets.

This was not good enough.

I wrote to guest services explaining logically and courteously why the Asylum is so damaging for the mental health community, and why it should have no place in 2013. The inadequate response I received (which you can read here on my blog) pretty much relied on the “it’s a bit of fun, we’ve always done it and no one’s complained before” line, which as I point out in my reply is what people said carrying on with the Black and White Minstrel Show. Just because it’s traditional, doesn’t make it right.

And anyway, here’s the thing. Maybe no one has complained before, but that’s irrelevant because they are complaining NOW and they are doing it loudly via social media. Rethink Mental Illness, one of the country’s largest and most active mental health charities, started a Twitter hashtag poll asking people to vote AsylumYES (funnily enough this one didn’t attract much interest) or #AsylumNO. I suggest you take a look at #AsylumNO however as there are more participants than I could count to give you an idea of the scale, let alone individual tweets. This roundup by mental health blogger @Sectioned_ collates tweets, the hashtag, @THORPEPARK’s inadequate response, and eight blogs at the time of writing (not including my own) on why the Asylum concept is offensive and damaging.

@Sectioned_ follows with with a list of ways in which Thorpe Park could limit this snowballing negative publicity and display recognition of how inappropriate the attraction is in this day and age.

In my view, the first and the most important is that Thorpe Park and Merlin stop saying they are sorry “if offence has been caused” and accept that it’s not a question of people being offended – it’s a question of placing us at risk by falsely linking dangerousness and mental health in the public’s minds. That’s not about being offended, it’s about an already stigmatised and vulnerable group being made more so, just so that you can offer guests a bit of “scary fun” and make yourselves a little more money. Distasteful in the extreme, and it is hard to think of any other minority group you would even begin to think it was OK to depict as horror baddies. If Tesco and Asda can own up to getting it wrong and failing to move with the times, surely Thorpe Park/Merlin can do the same. The large donations those companies made to mental health charities were also very welcome.

I understand it is probably too late to simply pull the Asylum, but you have plenty of time to decide and announce that it’s no longer appropriate, and that next year you will be offering something different. Apologising for the inadequate responses of the @THORPEPARK Twitter feed and that no one from Merlin has even acknowledged the #AsylumNO hashtag is clearly essential. Donating the money made from The Asylum to Time to Change, the joint Mind and Rethink funded charity whose brief is to combat stigma against mental health problems, would also be extremely welcome.

This whole event also suggests that Merlin and Thorpe Park need company-wide training in mental health. Mind run a range of high-quality in-house training courses covering everything from basic mental health awareness through to creating a mentally healthy workplace http://www.mind.org.uk/training. An announcement that Thorpe Park intends to sign up with Mind to improve staff understanding in this area would again be very welcome.

You have got something very wrong. We are giving you simple ways you can put things right and we expect to hear from you very shortly that you recognise the need for change and accept the damage you do by running this event.

Yours sincerely

Charlotte Walker



About purplepersuasion

40 something service user, activist, writer and mother living with bipolar disorder. Proud winner of the Mark Hanson Prize for Digital Media at the Mind Media Awards #VMGMindAwards
This entry was posted in Politics and current affairs, Stigma and discrimination and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to #AsylumNO – a message from the 1:4 people with a mental health condition

  1. Pingback: Halloween: What’s wrong with evoking the “scary mental patient” stereotype? | Sectioned

  2. tigtigs says:

    Fab Charlotte as usual………….if they don’t do something then they are idiotic and unthinking as they currently present themselves to be! Jenny xx

  3. martin Roberts says:

    Interesting post, yet the negative tweets to Thorpe park seem to be from a concentrated few, would you agree?
    From what I can see this select band of individuals have continually asked the same question time and time again-it would seem to me that the people at Thorpe park simply aren’t responding as they have nothing else to say on this matter, but I guess that makes things not as dramatic as you would like.
    As a mental health sufferer for 10 years and living with someone who has attempted suicide twice in the last 18 months I actually find your crusade against Halloween attractions In my name offensive!
    What you have simply done by continually haranguing a twitter feed is make your cause look bitter and erratic. You have claimed that there is a deluge of complaints, if that is the case your highlighting of this matter has been successful, can I ask why you have carried on? You are creating a bigger issue that people see your crusade as a vendetta, and therefore your impact is lost.
    business’s simply don’t exist to respond to you and there actually is people who support this type of attraction.
    Yes people like me can have mental illness and have a different outlook than you.
    What credentials do you have to represent me, my mother or the many people I know who suffer mental health issues that don’t find words like, asylum, and patient offensive?
    I believe that by constantly repeating yourselves and looking to drum up support by hijacking an entertainments twitter feed and also other social media platforms you have displayed
    an almost bullying culture which further drives people into making assumptions. I would be interested to hear if your campaign is specifically for the greater good or for self gratification?
    this isn’t a personal dig at you, but mental health is not about a Halloween maze and further pushing this makes people believe it is!
    lets have the debate about the woeful lack of support for sufferers of mental health, lets also discuss the rapid rise of anti depressants being prescribed without looking at alternative solutions.
    lets also look at society in general as to how we can make a difference but to blame an entertainment attraction is simply not the answer and I am sorry that you feel it is, but you do not represent me, my mother and I dutifully respect that you stop claiming you do.

    • I’m sorry you fail to recognise the damage this sort of thing does. I fail to see how escalating my concerns up the “chain of command” when I have at every turn either failed to get a response or got a meaningless one is improper? How has my highlighting of the issue been “successful” when none of the people I have contacted have deigned to give a response? The 1:4 figure is used by charities to agitate all the time (I believe Rethink, who started the hashtag, will be releasing a statement today), funnily enough in drawing attention to issues they haven’t come round and knocked on my door personally to ask if I am OK with it. What they want to do is what I am doing, and have had amazing messages of support for doing – address TP/Merlin on the only terms they are interested in: market share. Carry on being part of the problem, if you want. Your choice, but I have plenty of people contacting me daily thanking me for standing up, speaking out on behalf of them. Personally Im appalled if any person with a MH history doesn’t want to stamp this stuff out. Suggest you read the 2011 public attitudes survey I quoted in another reply. THIS kind of stuff validates and supports THAT kind of stuff. And I am debating the other stuff all the time, lobbying, blogging, going to focus groups, listening exercises, reading the tweets of my almost 4000 followers, the comments left on my more than 250,000 page views.

      • T Smith says:

        How you can say that you are not making a ‘personal dig’ at this blogger when you have just accused her of self-gratification is beyond me.

        Whether you agree with her views or not, there is no need to be rude; in addition, working to reduce mental health stigma is done for the benefit of mental health patients, not in their name – a significant difference.

        Suggesting that we should “look at society in general as to how we can make a difference” is a wonderful idea, but surely the execution of this idea is in standing up and talking about outdated views of mental health, such as this?

  4. Bill murray says:

    Stop ruining peoples fun. if you dont like it dont go!

  5. martin Roberts says:

    so because I disagree with you my point is meaningless. You have devalued your whole argument! Its a clear case of do as I say not as I do! So its ok for you to disagree with a company but not ok for someone to disagree with you!
    I have been refused jobs because I have highlighted periods of mental health so please don’t dare tell me that I fail to recognise stigma towards Mental health.
    You are only presenting a one sided view and continually refuse to acknowledge that people with mental health history can have a different view to yours.

  6. shea s says:

    I’ve worked for a major park in the US, and you’d be surprised just how fast they can rename a ride or attraction. (We had a major roller coaster that was nationally rolled out as ‘Banshee’, and then someone pointed out what Banshee meant, and it was changed within 2 weeks). This isn’t a matter of ‘how’, it’s a matter of ‘why is this taking so long?’. Yes, it will cost them to change it, but that’s a lesson – do things correctly the first time, and you won’t have to spend time and money to fix the problem later.

  7. Anonymous says:

    This debate is not going to do anybody any good. We all know how confrontation can affect depression. PurplePersuasion is just trying to make Thorpe Park aware that SOME people find the ride offensive.

    I was not aware of it until I saw the posts. I was potentially going there next week for “Fright Night”, and would have been really quite upset if I had entered this maze and realised what was going on. I would have also been attending with a very good friend of mine, who last year lost three members of her family to suicide. She would have without any doubt been extremely traumatised if we had gone along and not known.

    I have seen dangerous patients, and patients not allowed phone chargers or shoe laces in their rooms. That aren’t allowed to use the kettle or cooking facilities. That aren’t allowed to use the pencil sharpener in Art Therapy. I would still class my peers at therapy safe to be around, and in no way would avoid sitting next to them in group sessions or avoid being alone with them. I am aware that these patients are a danger to themselves rather than to others, but in my opinion they are still at high risk.

    To put it in perspective, would the ride have caused uproar if it featured people with leprosy, or perhaps even HIV and AIDS?

    I found a useful website, the top ten illnesses with stigma attached. I ask you to flick through them, and ask yourself whether if any of those were featured, would you feel the same?


    I’m not here to get involved in a debate, but do support PurplePersuasion, as I have made clear on Twitter also. I don’t believe that any one person can talk on behalf of all, but she does have the backing of several of us that would undoubtedly find the experience distressing.

    Hope we can all put this to rest now. After all, the whole thing is raising awareness about mental health. That is what we all want. So long as it is for the right reasons.

    peace out xx

  8. T Smith says:

    A thoughtful and thought-provoking read, as usual. The most frustrating thing about all of this is what seems to be a wilful ignorance to the problem – the constant ignoring of the current complaints with ‘but we haven’t had complaints in the past!’ Similarly to sexism, racism, or any other kind of -ism, just because it’s been done that way for years doesn’t make it right. Thank you.

  9. Aidan J says:

    I think you fail to account for historical connotations of asylums (which I think is fairly obvious from the choice in name). If Thorpe Park wanted to use a more up to date reflection of today’s mental health (akin to the one you’re describing they are) I think they may have chosen something more fitting to today’s more subtle naming conventions.

    As it stands I see them harking back to an era where such places were generally quite scary due to the lack of knowledge that people had in the field of mental health. Because of this I can’t see the issue bearing much relevance to the modern state of mental health care.

    In the same way that TV, movies and video games bring up the darker and more morbid moments of human history to invoke fear I don’t see any reason why Thorpe Park can’t use a representation of the history of mental health for their own ends. There is a clear differentiation here.

    The voting system is also a little flawed… You’re pushing an agenda to a demographic who is either going to care (and vote “no”), or isn’t going to care and therefore isn’t going to vote. Plus the results double count retweets.

  10. georgia says:

    Ridiculous!!! If it was really offensive would have been shut down years ago. I suffer mental health but no way find this attraction offensive. In fact its the best Halloween maze i have been in. See the entertainment side instead, its meant for fun not to offend. Don’t take thigns to heart then it won’t offend.

  11. Pingback: Thorpe Park “ignores” concerns over its asylum attraction | JackGYarwood

  12. Pingback: This Week in Mentalists – Last Chance to Nominate for the #TWIMAwards Edition « Mentally Wealthy

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s