By Nicola Blacker
A new exhibit at the Perth Royal Show this year has sparked an outpouring of criticism from mental health advocates.
Dubbed ‘Bethlem Sanatorium’ the $1 million exhibit includes an open ward with 20 actors pretending to be patients at a mental asylum.
The design is based on Bethlem Royal Hospital (infamously known by the moniker Bedlam), London’s first institution created specifically to treat people with mental illness.
Debora Colvin, the head of the Council of Official Visitors, an independent agency established to help involuntary health patients, has condemned the exhibit for its negative portrayal of mental illness.
“It makes fun of people’s trauma and adds to the stigma of mental illness,” said Ms Colvin.
Advocacy group Consumers of Mental Health Western Australia (CoMHWA) has taken the additional step of calling for the closure of the exhibit before the Royal Show opens on Saturday.
CoMHWA said it features offensive stereotypes and imagery of what it means to experience mental health challenges and believes it’s offensive to make institutional abuse the subject of public entertainment.
Jacinta Maxton, a parent of three teenage children, expressed her disappointment at the exhibit especially as it caters to young people.
“Mental illness is so common now, to stigmatise ill people and make fun or make money out of their pain is not something children should be a part of. If they’re going to have trouble in the future, what’s the message it sends?”
Megella Fidler has dealt firsthand with mental health issues and believes the exhibit shows how far society has come compared to the past when mental health problems were a hidden taboo.
“It shows kids that it’s an issue and a part of life. Kids shouldn’t be hidden from the reality,” said Ms. Fidler.
A spokesperson for the Perth Royal Show was approached for comment.