An Open Letter To The TTC – Please Remove These Posters

11 Aug

Dear Toronto Transit Commission,

I am writing with regards to the following poster found in some of your subway cars advertising “Mystery Room,” which is apparently a sort of spooky role-playing game where you have to escape scary situations.

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As you can see, some of the frightening scenarios that you can participate in include “Satan’s Lair,” prison, something called The Mummy’s Curse and a psychiatric ward. All of them are problematic in one way or another, but one of them hits particularly close to home for me.

I am writing this because I am a person who has spent time on a psychiatric ward – in fact, I’ve been a patient at multiple mental hospitals. The first time was when I was sixteen – I saw a clinical psychologist to help figure out what medication would best manage my depression. The second time was when I was twenty one and suicidal – that time I was admitted and spent the night in the hospital. Last year I went to the CAMH emergency room because, again, I was depressed, overwhelmed and suicidal. I was accepted into the cognitive behavioural therapy program there and spent several months completing that as an outpatient this year.

I am not scary. I am not violent. I am not a monster.

I am not some trope that should be used to scare people in a haunted house. I am a for-real person, who struggles daily with an illness that colours nearly every aspect of my life. The same goes for every other person living with mental illness. We’re not the punch line to your “crazy” joke. We’re people coping with very real, sometimes deadly illnesses and that alone is a hard enough row to hoe without tossing mental health stigma on top of everything else.

And that stigma is exactly what these posters perpetuate – both stigma against the mentally ill and stigma against psychiatric hospitals. It plays right into the old belief that people with mental illnesses are dangerous and violent, even though we’re far more likely to be the victims of violence than perpetrators of it. It also makes psychiatric hospitals look like frightening, terrible places, which is pretty discouraging to someone who needs treatment for mental health stuff. Dealing with this shit is scary enough without advertising campaigns like this.

To make matters even worse, here’s what Mystery Room has to say about the mental hospital scenario on their website:

Ward 15 is the place the mentally disturbed were contained. Dr. Johansson had a passion for experimenting on the unanesthetised living. The patients grew mad, losing the ability to speak as their throats ruptured from constant screaming. These people now haunt the ward, seeking and exacting their revenge on unsuspecting victims. As you enter the ward, one thing is certain: it is going to take all of your knowledge and skill to get out alive.

That is actually a thing that has happened. I seriously cannot stress that enough – that is actually a thing that has happened to psychiatric patients in this country. In the 1950s, the CIA performed “mind control” experiments on patients at a Montreal mental hospital. Similar experiments were done in the United States. To make light of this type of violence inflicted against the mentally ill is beyond awful, and to turn it into a form of entertainment makes me pretty much choke up with rage. There are victims of these experiments who are still alive, and you’re advertising a game that makes a joke out of the horrific things they’ve experienced.

Look, Robin Williams died today of apparent suicide; according to his publicist he was “battling severe depression” in the time leading up to his death. My chest hurts for him and his family, and it’s hard not to think about all the other people whose illnesses have or might turn equally deadly. People with mental illnesses are failed by our society on a daily basis, and every time we let something like this Secret Room program pass without saying anything, we are failing the mentally ill even harder.

I’m asking you to please take down these posters. They are not appropriate for public transit, and they do not reflect the values of this city. We, as citizens of Toronto, deserve better than this.

Sincerely,

Anne Thériault

Anyone wishing to lodge a complaint about these posters can do so here.

P.S. here is a list of suicide crisis lines – if you are thinking of hurting yourself, please call someone

39 Responses to “An Open Letter To The TTC – Please Remove These Posters”

  1. siobhanfoley August 12, 2014 at 12:19 am #

    I can relate to this so much – I have never been in the psych ward but have come close, and have a mother who was in there for two years. I, too, hate the stigma around psychiatric facilities and mental illness, but when I see something like these ads on the subway and Go train, I personally think they are more so referring to how psychiatric facilities were run in the early days (late 1800’s, early 1900’s until about 1960’s really). I know it is still not right because even to create that situation as a game is horrible to the people who lived in those facilities in those times, but I do see how back then they were considered very scary because of the experimental techniques of the time (lobotomy, also when electroshock therapy was very new), also with the treatment of the patients there – and the standards of what people would be in there for (mentally challenged people, women who had PMS, many more disgusting reasons).
    So although I do totally understand that this is ad is so wrong, but just trying to put it in perspective because although the world is still stigmatizing mental illness, I think we have come a far way.
    I do agree that mental illness, suicide, mental hospitals should never be a joke, a source of “joy and fun” for people who have never really experienced it.

    • mrwriteon August 12, 2014 at 11:11 pm #

      Really well-considered comments on a disgustingly awful concept in the name of ‘fun’? My ex-wife has suffered from mental illness for years, has undergone ECT and the whole damn thing. I commend you for what you stated.

  2. Elizabeth Hawksworth August 12, 2014 at 12:24 am #

    Absolutely. This is disgusting. These need to come down, now.

  3. Tempest Rose August 12, 2014 at 12:36 am #

    I completely agree. I also don’t like the prison thing, either. That further perpetuates the stereotype that all prisoners are horrible, evil, violent criminals — and they have been treated horribly as well. When will the world wake up and realize that this shit harms people?

  4. Lindsay August 12, 2014 at 12:50 am #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I will also write to them and will circulate the news amongst my coworkers, who I am sure would be equally offended and horrified at this.

    Small world(ish): I work at the CAMH building (I actually work for Dept of Psych. at U of T).

  5. Andrew Hughes August 12, 2014 at 12:59 am #

    Those posters are awful and need to come down. Thank-you for posting this.

  6. elsieselement August 12, 2014 at 1:55 am #

    I could not agree more with you. It is hard to watch mental illness be used as a source of entertainment. Like you said, many people are afraid to seek help because of the stigma that is attached with mental illness. Even these small posters can be so degrading to someone suffering from mental illness. There is still much to be done to decrease and even get rid of these stigmas but it is a relief to hear others feel the same way. I greatly appreciate your thoughtfulness.

  7. Vanessa-Jane Chapman August 12, 2014 at 5:41 am #

    I don’t know if you heard about it but here in the UK last year a couple of supermarkets brought out halloween costumes, one was “mental patient” and the other was “psycho ward patient” that were like blood-splattered horror costumes. There was an outcry from mental health charities and the public, and both supermarkets took them off their shelves and apologised, so I don’t think this poster would last long in the UK. Hope others complain too like you have and they listen, it’s ridiculously archaic to present mental health as scary entertainment in any way.

  8. prideinmadness August 12, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    Thanks for writing this! I saw this poster and snapped a picture when I saw it with the intention of doing exactly what you did but then life caught up with me.

  9. prideinmadness August 12, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    Reblogged this on Pride in Madness and commented:
    I snapped a picture of this ad when I saw it on the TTC with the intention of writing about it but then life caught up with me. Thanks for writing this post! A psych ward is scary but not for the reasons people think. You should be more afraid of the professionals than the patients…

  10. Rose F August 12, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

    Reblogged this on Rose B Fischer and commented:
    Seriously. Just. OMG. 2014 people. Come on.

  11. Adam August 12, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    Um. I also have spent a majority of my life institutionalized. In fact the ages 16-25 are completely lost in memory due to the medication I was on. I still suffer every day. But Thank you for posting this. Because now I can make an effort to take part in this Fiction/Fantasy experience and escape the whoa is me attitude I’m faced with from everyone around me every day. I full support this. It sounds fun and exciting. and now because of this. I know it exists when otherwise would have never known about it. Censorship is wrong people. Its entertainment, NOT reality. And if you cannot tell the difference. Maybe you should censer yourself.

    • Susan August 16, 2014 at 7:35 pm #

      I agree with you – even further, I would say it is black humor and can be psychologically healthy. As the author of the OP even points out, these things really happened. Mental illness can never be the subject of humor? That’s going too far.

  12. teddybear192837 August 12, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

    I think this is a good thing. What is does is reinforce the idea that psychiatry is a scary thing – not something that is okay or wanted in our society. I understand the negative connotation it can have for people who have actually been to a psych ward, but just think of the effect poster like that have on the average person. People look at that and get the idea that a psych ward is associated with fear, evil, and negativity. Its a small thing, but I think enough posters and ideas like this floating around in society can bring about a real, positive change. For the people who get a bit triggered seeing this, there are help groups and the like for psychiatric victims and I would recommend something like that.

  13. weebluebirdie August 12, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    I completely agree with how offensive this advert is. Have you thought about publicising it with mental health organisations? Get it to be a news story. Shout it out on Twitter. I’ll put your post on Twitter to start it here.

  14. lylaalsayyid August 12, 2014 at 3:00 pm #

    This needs to come down! As someone who takes the TTC myself, it’s just rude and discriminatory and furthers the stigma around mental health!

  15. SophieC August 12, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

    Thoughtful and insightful post. While I was reading it I was thinking all along about Robin Williams and his pain and struggle, and then you got there too. As someone who has also struggled against the depression demons, Robin Williams’ death blind sided me and left me weeping in the way only a fellow depression sufferer can. I don’t mean to hijack the thread and make it about RW. I absolutely agree with you. Those posters should come down!

  16. caelesti August 12, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

    The prison is also not cool. I heard a while ago about a gay bar that re-opened with a prison and that is seriously messed up.

  17. neighsayer August 12, 2014 at 7:21 pm #

    solid point, Belle. Well said.

  18. peculiarpurls August 12, 2014 at 8:01 pm #

    Thank you for speaking out.

  19. murielle August 12, 2014 at 8:51 pm #

    So so true. It’s horribly offensive and careless. I’m so angry with the stigmas and ignorance people with mental illness have to face and suffer.

  20. Dan August 13, 2014 at 1:50 am #

    I’m having issues understanding your actual point here. You had a rough time, did not get it addressed, now others must tip-toe around your depression? I’m sorry, but that is completely unreasonable.

    I suffered PTSD from having my face blown off. You do not see me complaining about fires on ads, or matches, or boycotting camping, that’s just unreasonable.

    I’m sorry for saying this, but you need to cope with your depression, society does not stop for 1 person

    • Moniqa February 15, 2015 at 6:24 pm #

      At the same time, your own experiences dictate how you comprehend your own struggle.
      The social media should not allow it to be acceptable to engage in this. If you change the circumstances… it would be wrong. So why isn’t it wrong if it is mental health?

      For example… let’s say you are stuck in the basement of a large home, and the only people around you are Black slaves. You can either escape , or become a slave yourself. This sounds EXTREMELY racist to me, and if it were one of the situations, there would be an uproar. However, being stuck in a psyc ward with “mental health” patients is acceptable. Oppression is oppression.

      The more we challenge issues such as this and make it clear that it is NOT ok, the less people will feel oppressed/powerless.

      Let’s stop stereotyping. This is not a “Canadian” issue (as someone replied to later on in this). It is a world, societal issue to take power away from those who are not as abled as others, to reinforce the able-bodied people in power. They dictate what is acceptable, and those who are oppressed need to challenge it.

  21. iamdottie August 13, 2014 at 8:16 am #

    I nominated you for the Sisterhood of The World Bloggers Award! Love your stuff! http://bearandbicycle.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/sisterhood-of-the-world-bloggers-award/

  22. Drew August 13, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    Just a note – it’s actually not the TTC that does these ads, it’s an external company called Pattison Advertising, so you’re probably best to write to them if you’d like something removed or changed.

  23. Jackie Aldridge August 14, 2014 at 12:38 am #

    You might think that depression is like headaches or stomach pain in that there are probably hundreds of causes for the symptom.
    I’m reading a book about “old age” which said that it could occur because of old age. I wondered about it with respect to Robin Williams. Andropause, like menopause, can cause depression. In this case it is the lack of hormones. Various hormones provide most people with a sense of well being, a bouyancy, to carry them through the difficult tasks of reproduction. Then, in old age, there can be a slowing of blood flow to the brain. The thought processes can run slower, the memory can fail from momentary changes in blood flow and sugar levels.
    The brain can be attacked when immune cells become improperly trained to attack brain tissue… We know ataxia can be brought on by gluten intolerence and multiple sclerosis is brought on by an unknown causes. Women’s hearts can fail from autoimmune confusion brought on by carrying a child who is one half “not self”. I’m running a statistical study now with a list of ten common autoimmune maladies. I’m even looking at autism because some people recover from it. The immune system has trainable components. Various immune cells can learn to attack different things when stimulated in different ways. There are ways to retrain the autoimmune system. The gluten intolerent avoid gluten and the t-cells trained to attack tissue diminish in number.

    • Jackie Aldridge August 14, 2014 at 12:59 am #

      .. Continued..this month July 26, 2014, there was an article in Science News titled ” autoimmune disease blocked in mice “. They proposed using x-rays in mice and antibody medicines in humans to diminish t-cells populations. They didn’t mention another way of diminishing t-cell populations… That of fasting. I think that fasting could be the most efficient and safest method of diminishing t-cells. In mice 48 hours is enough. The hypoglycemia of fasting is evidently enough to allow the macrophages to get ahead in their scavenging of old and defective t-cells.
      The retraining of the immune system might require exogenous stimulus or it might be able to retrain itself.

      I seem to be getting carried away in a direction away from what the other posts are discussing so please excuse and delete.

  24. Karen J August 14, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    I am a mother of two (15&10) suffering from major depression and other things on top of that. I reached out to the Catholic children’s aid society in Hamilton in 2012 for help for my depression and a result they took my rights away and made my one child crown ward and gave my ex our youngest. I am worse off now then when I did ask for help….anyone have any ideas that would help my situation I am fighting to get them back…but seem its a loosing battle😦 they are my world

  25. Anonee moose August 14, 2014 at 10:55 pm #

    All of you scarred, tragic mental hospital patients need to take a step back and realize this is pure entertainment. My friend owns one of these places and the themes are set up to instill a specific feeling in the people escaping the challenge rooms.

    THIS IS NOT A PSA FOR MENTAL HEALTH.

    This is a GAME. Shame on all of you ultra-PC individuals for constantly trying to change the way we play, speak, advertise etc. if you don’t like it, don’t go. Don’t give them your money, and move along. But don’t think for one second that someone that wants to be entertained is going to go to one of these places and walk out thinking “wow, mental asylums must ALL be dark depraved filthy establishments where mental patients (see: raging psychotic murderers) are all dangerous and out to get me.

    Get a reality check and move on with your life. Nobody gives a damn if it offends you, least of all the business owners themselves. And I’m sure the TTC would be happy to take the posters down if you pay them the same amount the business owners did to promote themselves.

    Idiots.

  26. Jim August 15, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

    Wow, Canada is sure full of emotional wimps and complainers. If your offended by it, don’t look at it. The ttc won’t remove it, it’s advertising revenue and they need every cent they can get. Without advertising revenue the ttc would not be able to operate and you wouldn’t have your ride. Again, if your offended, don’t look at it. It’s an ad for a fun / scary show. Nobody cares if you spent time in a psyche ward. They picked the “scary” situations and that’s what they came up with, and they did a great job. Instead of complaining about an ad, why not do something actually worthwhile with your time, like not posting this garbage. Wow, people these days are wimps. Suck it up and get over yourself.

  27. Genevieve August 15, 2014 at 5:09 pm #

    I copied and pasted some of the lines from your post and put them in my email to the TTC. Here’s hoping I get a response…

  28. A responder August 16, 2014 at 8:52 pm #

    Ms. Theriault:

    Well done, and thank you for your courage and promptness. I had read this article previously in the Star – and was going to respond to the owner/manager of the business but you beat me to it…

    (http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2014/07/26/getting_locked_in_is_now_a_popular_night_out_in_toronto_thanks_to_escape_rooms.html)

    In the article, the same writer for the Star that covered your reaction to the TTC ads, wrote a puff piece on the business in question, including mentioning the “psychiatric ward”. There was no questioning from the reporter and no criticism from the Star in general to this transgression – in other words, they seemed fine with it. The Star usually has no problem with bashing the so called mentally ill or disabled. So good for you, because you also called the Star on their own callousness and hypocrisy.

    May I point out to you that the Mystery Room website still isn’t completely free from the previous version for the “Haunted Hospital” room, as the tab still reads,” Psychiatric Ward Escape Zone”, and you’re told, in describing the room that -“This challenge will bring you to the brink of madness” – so fear is still paired with ‘crazy’.

    And by the way, Ms. Theriault, Canada’s Wonderland, and Screemers (sponsored by Pizza Pizza and Molson) have both, for many years, had ‘scary’ Halloween attractions that feature mentally ill patients/people and violence and fear. Almost a decade ago I pointed out to them that I thought this improper and was ignored by the people at Screemers and given the old ‘we never meant to offend’ response from Wonderland. And as I said they both kept going with their presentations like – ‘The Asylum’ (criminally insane looking for blood), ‘The Maniac Maze’ (beware the creatures that inhabit the maze) and the ‘Midway of Madness’ (now known as Midway of Mayhem), from Screemers; and from Wonderland attractions like ‘Psycho Circus’, ‘Psycho Path’, ‘The Asylum’, also I believe in other attractions, descriptions are provided featuring people who are, or who become, ‘mad’, and the scary violence that they wreak or is wreaked upon them. Perhaps you could look into these two places and embarrass them into behaving too?

    Cheers

    • A responder August 19, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

      p.s. (From me, A. responder)

      Here’s some copy from previous Canada Wonderland Halloween Haunts

      “Get ready… something evil^ is coming and everybody’s dying to get in. This fall, Canada’s Wonderland transforms into a horror-filled nightmare. From mazes with terrifying creatures around every corner to thrill rides that’ll haunt your dreams, it’s everything you fear and more. This haunt season brings 3 new mazes to Haunt with Sci Fi House, Louisiana Scream, and The Ruins. These mazes complete their line up of 10 mazes, 4 scare zones, and 3 shows. Haunt is open Weekend Nights, October 4th through 27th.”

      “The Asylum – The fear factor intensifies at an infirmary where the criminally insane are in control.”

      “Clowns at Midnight – The 1937 big top fire doomed the circus and now the clowns and circus freaks are looking for fresh blood to continue their demented* performances.”

      “New for 2013 Louisiana Scream – Deep inside Wonder Mountain reside the residents of a Louisiana bayou. They have long been warned not to venture too far from the water’s edge. Beyond the opulent river mansions is a mysterious, twisted world where curses are whispered in the dark and no one ever makes it back to shore. Those who go too far are soon driven mad with fear and bloodlust so be cautious – there’s no telling what you could wake in the Bayou.”

      “New for 2013 Sci Fi House – The Wilson family lives in a perfect home on a quiet cul-de-sac; or so they think. Every night when the neighbourhood street lights turn on, the Wilson home goes to a deadly dark place. Deranged** aliens and venomous creatures inflict bloody torture on any house guest. Run, don’t walk from Sci-Fi House.”

      “Corn Stalkers – The fields of the VanTassel farmstead are overgrown with two centuries of colonial debris and rotting corn. Monster scarecrows now consider this their home, attacking anyone who dares enter their fields with their razor-sharp beaks and terrifying shrieks of madness.”

      “The Asylum ( 2007 maze) – In 1923 Miles Gravestone was admitted to the asylum after surviving the curse of Slaughter Mill. No one believed his story, and most believed that it was he who gruesomely murdered his camping friends. The doctors forced electroshock therapy while the nurses cruelly sedated him with rusty needles. Pushed to his psychological brink, his sorrow and fear exploded in a rage of fury and he gathered all the other inmates to form a revolt. The inmates have taken over the asylum entirely, and those doctors and nurses who survived such actions are just as deranged as their former patients.”

      “The Asylum (2012 maze) – In 1923, Miles Gravestone was admitted to the asylum after surviving Slaughter Mill. Driven mad by his memories of the carnage and outraged that no one believed his story, Miles led the inmates of the asylum in a violent revolt. Taking his fury out on the doctors and nurses, he leaves them just as deranged and bloodthirsty as the patients.”

      “Slaughter Mill – When Thomas Greychild died while working at the paper mill, 200 years ago, his wife swore her vengeance upon all the workers who were present on that dark day and did not help him. She placed a dark curse onto half of the workers, transforming the men into rabid werewolves who trapped the remaining millers inside the paper mill so that they too could feel her loneliness and never go home to see their wives. Years of such solitude and witnessing such carnage have turned them manic*** as they are unable to die, but not fully alive. Both the millers and werewolves are set to ensure complete carnage on any mortal who dares to breach their territory.”

      ” Blood shed – When the headless horseman realized his head was not in the possession of the humans, he ravaged the Van Tassels’ barn, tearing through the helpless workers and animals that got in his way. The dilapidated barn is now haunted by rabid animals out for revenge against all things human, and the corpses of deceased farm hands roam about in loathsome madness.”

      ————————————————————————————————-
      ————————————————————————————————-

      * de·ment·ed /diˈmentid/ adjective

      adjective: demented suffering from dementia. • informal driven to behave irrationally due to anger, distress, or excitement.

      “a demented, dangerous, and sadistic Mafioso”

      synonyms: mad, insane, deranged, psychotic, out of one’s mind, crazed, lunatic, unbalanced, unhinged, disturbed, non compos mentis; informal crazy, mental, psycho, off one’s rocker, nutty, around the bend, raving mad, batty, cuckoo, loopy, loony, bananas, screwy, touched, gaga, not all there, out to lunch, bonkers, crackers, cracked, buggy, nutso, squirrelly, wacko; vulgar slangbatshit

      “the paranoia of a demented old man” ——————-

      dictionary.reference.com/browse/demented

      Demented definition, crazy; insane; mad.
      ———————————————————————————————–

      ** de·ranged /diˈrānjd/ adjective

      adjective: deranged mad; insane.

      “a deranged gunman”

      synonyms: insane, mad, disturbed, unbalanced, unhinged, unstable, irrational; crazed, demented, berserk, frenzied, lunatic, certifiable;
      non compos mentis; informal touched, crazy, wacko, mental, psycho;
      vulgar slangbatshit

      “her deranged cousin has finally been locked up”

      antonyms:rational
      ————————————————————————————————-
      ***man·ic /ˈmanik/adjective

      adjective: manic

      showing wild and apparently deranged excitement and energy.

      “his manic enthusiasm”

      synonyms: mad, insane, deranged, demented, maniacal, lunatic, wild, crazed, demonic, hysterical, raving, unhinged, unbalanced; informal crazy; vulgar slang batshit

      “a manic grin”
      ————————————————————————————————
      ^e·vil /ˈēvəl/ adjective

      adjective: evil 1. profoundly immoral and malevolent.

      “his evil deeds”

      synonyms:

      wicked, bad, wrong, immoral, sinful, foul, vile, dishonorable, corrupt, iniquitous, depraved, reprobate, villainous, nefarious, vicious, malicious;
      malevolent, sinister, demonic, devilish, diabolical, fiendish, dark;
      monstrous, shocking, despicable, atrocious, heinous, odious, contemptible, horrible, execrable;

      informallow down, dirty

      “an evil deed”

      antonyms:

      good, virtuous

      • (of a force or spirit) embodying or associated with the forces of the devil.

      “we have been driven out of the house by this evil spirit”

      • harmful or tending to harm.

      “the evil effects of high taxes”

      synonyms:cruel, mischievous, pernicious, malignant, malign, baleful, vicious; destructive, harmful, hurtful, injurious, detrimental, deleterious, inimical, bad, ruinous

      “an evil spirit”

      antonyms: good, beneficial

      • (of something seen or smelled) extremely unpleasant.

      “a bathroom with an evil smell”

      synonyms: unpleasant, disagreeable, nasty, horrible, foul, disgusting, filthy, vile, noxious

      “an evil smell”

      antonyms: pleasant

      noun

      noun: evil

      1. profound immorality, wickedness, and depravity, especially when regarded as a supernatural force.

      “the world is stalked by relentless evil”

      synonyms: wickedness, bad, badness, wrongdoing, sin, ill, immorality, vice, iniquity, degeneracy, corruption, depravity, villainy, nefariousness, malevolence; devil; formal turpitude

      “the evil in our midst”

  29. Jessica September 24, 2014 at 6:24 am #

    Thank you for this article and for sharing

  30. You're pathetic March 7, 2015 at 11:36 pm #

    The world shouldn’t change to accommodate the concerns of whiners like you.

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