The Perth Royal Show is facing community backlash after proposing to host a ride based on London’s infamous mental health institution, Bethlem Sanatorium, commonly referred to as Bedlam.
Bethlem was founded in the 13th Century, not initially as a hospital, but as a Christian centre for the collection of alms for the Crusader Church. Over the years it became a hospital specialising in the treatment of people with mental illnesses.
At this year’s Perth Royal Show, the Bethlem Sanatorium ride will debut featuring a ward with actors pretending to be mental health patients. Patrons will be invited to poke the patients with sticks.
This ride promotes the stereotype of ‘scary mental health patients’ and stigmatises those seeking help for a mental illness. Backlash has come across the mental health sector and the community at large. Bethlem Sanatorium, currently a working hospital, has also contributed to the conversation calling for the ride to be changed.
A decision has been made to rename the ride ‘Mayhem Manor’ and change the theme of the ride to the outbreak of a deadly contagion. Historical references to mental health or the Sanatorium have been removed.
The Royal Agricultural Society responded to criticisms and public backlash saying they did not wish to cause offence.
The idea that this ride may have existed just down the road from Graylands Hospital, a place synonymous with the poor history of treating mental health patients is astounding.
In the end this has been a win for the mental health sector and for those suffering mental illness. The issue was brought to the fore in the media and public attitudes were made. Until the stigma associated with mental illness and seeking help and treatment disappears, we must continue reinforcing the positive message of treatment whenever possible.