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Kmart Stigmatizes Children With Mental Illness – Selling Offensive T-shirts


Today, like every Sunday, I opened the newspaper to see what was new in the world. Then I checked out what was on sale, going through the flyers of local, brand-name stores.  Today, I was shocked at the advertisement in a K-mart flyer.

On the Family Denim Event page, dead center of the layout, was Juniors’ tees being sold for $9.89 with a message on the front so stigmatizing that I had to take a picture and post it in today’s blog post.

Stigmatic expressions toward mental illness; what I would only have expected to see online has now gone mainstream!

On the first shirt it says, “I’M NOT CRAZY! MY IMAGINARY FRIENDS CAN PROVE IT!” And the second T-shirt said: “GONE CRAZY, BACK IN 5 Minutes.

21 Comments to
Kmart Stigmatizes Children With Mental Illness – Selling Offensive T-shirts

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  1. —Not only does is perpetuate the stigma of mental illness it fuels the fire of hate.

    After you call it that , where do yu go from there?

    —Not only does is perpetuate discriminaation aganst mental illnesses it fuels the fire of hate.

  2. Yes these tshirts should be pulled off the shelf. Just appalled by it…

  3. I’m usually the first one on the PC bandwagon, but I don’t think “crazy” has been a real medical term for at least half a century. If they were poking fun at the terms “schizophrenic,” “retarded,” or “bipolar,” I’d be with you, but people — and especially children — don’t usually associate these terms with “crazy” today.

  4. Considering there is a saying that goes, if you know your mad, your not, and in that context the term is ok,and So in that context Why wouldn’t it or shouldn’t it be ok to talk like that on a t-shirt,as long as the context is in jest, its fine, in fact it might even take the down stigma away from the darkness of the language, it might even make kids not feel so threatened or worried about their differences, but for one who sees it as a threat, one will see it not as a threat, depends what spin you want to apply to it,depends where your imagination goes, and how boogy man you want to be about it. You see im mad, but thats why im not,its the ones that aren’t sure that have a problem, its fine to be crazy , mad, lighten up, play it down , not up, or youl make every one neurotic.

    • @JB I have the fully disagree with you… While I agree the importance of humor for recovery is paramount… The real problem here is not what the message says on the T-shirts rather to whom it is focused on… Children and teenagers will be wearing this message in an environment that is filled with judgment and preconceived ideas based on the influence of a crowd. Just because a child may be unaware of the vast concept of mental illness there is no reason for companies like Kmart to help perpetuate a stigmatic expression or statement for profit… In short this is about the children not the words per se.

  5. They should be removed , you are right that especially sending that message to kids , education to hatred is the key and this is wrong.

    • FB reply:
      I agree with you entirely Chato: – people with mental health problems are stigmatised enough as it is, without encouraging children to perpetuate the stigma (and making money from it!). Especially by making fun of experiences that are very distressing for those who have to live with them. What I find frightening – if these derogatory slogans were aimed at ethnic groups, or the lgbt community, there would be an uproar – but somehow when it’s aimed at disabled people, it’s ok. So thanks for pointing this out, and like you I say, no tolerance to this!

  6. How about Glenn Close parading her sister around in a ‘bipolar’ tee-shirt? and how about this organization for mental illness selling those shirts? internal stigma is worse than K Mart!

    Shirts sold on the site

    Bring Change 2 Mind

    Also, note the partnered foundations working with Bring 2 Mind:

    NAMI, CABF (Now MindFoundation for kids),DBSA, Mental Health America,International Bipolar Foundation and more.

    I’d like to see an article on that vs K-Mart, because those organizations declare to represent the person suffering with mental ilness, yet promote labeling with shirts far more stigmatizing that the K Mart shirts. Glenn Close got to wear the ‘Sister’ shirt. Why was her sister singled out with a mental illness label? It’s wrong.

    • @Stephany – it’s apples and oranges… Kmart is not selling to advocate about mental health, nor is any part of the sell of the “crazy” tee’s going to research… nor do they warn by children who are trying to make a positive statement Or shed light on mental illness. I am familiar with that organization in fact I did write a post about it… While I to had some reservations when the organization Bring Change 2 Mind first started out… I held off one full year before commenting/posting about them.

      the point here is these are innocent children wearing discriminating messages… Would you feel the same if the message was racially motivated… Stigmatization in many people’s books is just another word for discrimination… I personally am not afraid to use the word “crazy”… It’s bugging me that this terminology is being marketed to “juniors”/children. You can’t tell me school-aged children are not affected by self deprecating terms that are on the T-shirts above. I do know some carries it term crazy as a badge… One of my nicknames in school was “psycho Stew”… I wasn’t diagnosed back then but my actions fit the preconceived stigmatic stereotype of a person dealing with psychosis… I think I did more harm than everything else.

      While I do agree with both labeling mentally ill and/or non-mentally ill is wrong there has to be some balance… I believe that balance depends on the individual, so is our dilemma, where is the line for stigma… What is right what is wrong with various on each person you ask. On Facebook I put it simply that anything that stigmatizes children and teens is where I draw the line… Stephanie I’m curious, where do you draw the line?

  7. I draw the line at pharma funded sites such as the ones listed in the partners above (NAMI, DBSA, etc)promoting stigma in the shirts as I already posted, the K Mart shirts will come and go but the pharma funded pro stigmatizing campaign ran by Bring Change2 Mind are here indefinitely, and setting the stage for what you have missed is internal stigma. Have you ever been inside a locked psych ward as a visitor (as I have) and heard nurses and staff call ppl “crazy”? or how about this one “the crime you have committed is being mentally ill”. Yes, I believe BringCHange2 mind and it’s stance promotes those type of thoughts by the very people taking care of the most vulnerable victims in society. All stigma is wrong, and just because those organizations are ones you believe in doesnt make them right.

    • It’s just may be true that we are in fact the most stigmatic… I have not missed “internal stigma”, I know runs rampant because nobody wants to be labeled as “crazy” or any other way that… As for big Pharmacy funding I’m a little too long torn down the middle on this… With government cutting millions of dollars out of mental health funding and services drying up left and right because of not having the right funding or any funding at all I see no problem with taking money from big pharmacies if that money is going to be used to help my peers. It’s a little bit of blood money I know, but without funding nothing can be sustained… Many of us living with a mental health diagnosis does not have the funding or resources needed to make a huge impact. I do not believe that the funding should come with strings or promotional guarantees from the organizations there supporting… Other than maybe a label of sponsorship. NAMI, DBSA and many other organizations count on both private donations, grants, and funding from Big pharmaceuticals… Some may avoid big Pharma and rely completely on private donations… But the key is they still need money to run at work… The message still hasn’t changed even though you bring up different concepts… The question is should Kmart be selling and contributing to the stigma crazy mental health issues by selling T-shirts that feed into this stigma.

  8. Looking at the whole t-shirt it does not appear to be mean spirited at all. The colors and text of the t-shirt are flashy and appear to be done in a joking manner. I am not sure of the target demographic for these shirt, they do look like they are intended for girls, but I am not sure the ages. Would a 8-12 year-old girl know the colloquial sense that we use those sayings in our society more as a self-deprecating humor, rather than a berating comment? My hunch is probably not. Would a 15 or 16 year-old girl know the difference? I think there is a chance. I think a large part of it is which age group is being targeted here.

    The girls will not likely be buying these shirts on their own. More than likely, it will be their parents who will buy the shirts for them. I think it is incumbent upon the parent to sit down and have a conversation about it. These shirts can be a positive learning moment in youths lives about the meanings of sayings and how to interpret something that is self-deprecating rather than said in malice or in spite. Unfortunately, I don’t think these conversations are having enough in our society, not just about mental illness, but about many subjects.

    The good thing I think these shirt serve is to get a conversation started among adults. Mental illness is an invisible illness and in my humble opinion it is difficult to start a conversation about mental illness among adults because it is an invisible illness. These shirts can help get the conversation going among parents who can talk about mental illness, raise awareness, and talk about what is appropriate and inappropriate to say.

  9. Until someone takes the time to contact Kmart and find out why they have producted and are selling these shirts – I my self thought them to be somewhat of a joke.
    I work with individuals and families on a daily basis that have been diagnosed with a mental illness strickly from observation or from something the person (often a child) has said.
    I think the real problem is that in today’s society/medical field a person is too easily diagnosed (labeled) with a mental disorder and given dangerous medications to handle the problem. NOT CURE IT. One of the latest “mental health disorders” the APA wants to put in their “Diagnostic Manual” is sitting at your computer too long. Give me a break. If one took the time to look at their DSM and the hundreds of ridiculous “mental illnesses” you would be amazed!
    People do have problems – do doubt. But, to say they are mentally ill (again – labeling them) and prescribing medication far to often- that is the real problem.

    There are no scientific tests to diagnos any of their mental illnesses. None of their medications cure. They cover up the symptoms and often cause serious side effects.

    Which is worse – a little humor or over diagnosing and medicating?

  10. A twitter follow pick up the fight and went right to Kmart… I will report on what happened in my next blog post.

  11. As a preteen/teenager I would have said “hey, I resemble that remark!” and would have wanted one of those shirts. My mother probably would have allowed me to get it because she would have seen it as relatively mild. I always knew I was different and I guess that I would have been happy that there was something for “different” people like me. But I see your argument too, and I don’t want some big corporation profiting from my stigmatized condition. I don’t know–I guess I don’t think most kids would see this as an open invitation to make fun of mental illness, they’d just see it as something silly. It’s kind of odd that I see it that way considering that as a card carrying member of the Curmudgeon’s Club, I think that kids in general are demon spawn.

  12. How RIDICULOUS!!!!!!
    Talk about looking for something to complain about. It is funny!!!! Get a life . Seriously.
    I have suffered with mental “illness” for over 15 years and take absolutely NO offence to this whatsoever… it is not personal. You are like those grumpy old people that aren’t happy unless you have something to complain about.

    On the back of my front door hangs a palque that says, “Welcome to the Nut House”. Should i be offended my brother bought it for me? NO! It was in good humour and mental illness aside, “are we not all a little “crazy””???

    Get a life and laugh a little more.

    • First thanks for taking the time to comment, but you may want READ my blog again. Then think of the latest shooting in CHARDON, Ohio high school where there was shooting this week killed three teens and wounded two others. This all over “bulling”, then get back to me… Because your comment is “RIDICULOUS!!!!!!”. If you don’t think children make fun and tormenting others that are different or act “weird”, “crazy” or “nutty” then you need to go back to school.
      YOU NEED TO READ THE PART where I sayNow it’s not the first time I’ve seen T-shirts with stigmatic expressions on them. Let’s face it, what adults wear on their chest is up to them and I believe it probably is covered by their First Amendment rights. And if an adult wears a T-shirt that stigmatizes mental health or expresses their belief in government or religion, it’s really not going to get a whole lot of notice… These T-shirts are being marketed to children, school age children, in an environment that is ripe for discrimination..” Yet, for you I will add this to the blog post… .3/1/12 clarification: ANYTHING THAT affects children is where I draw the line!

      “Welcome to the Nut House”. Should i be offended my brother bought it for me? — Maybe you should be offended… because he might think deep down thinks your a joke! If buying you a gift that reflects the negative effects of a mental illness then you may want to educate him on the seriousness of what you’ve gone though…

      NicoleF I love to laugh and I do have a good funny bone and flex it every day… My main point was NOT the MESSAGE per se, rather who it was being sold too.

      Aslo read my follow up post.

      • Wow, just…wow. First off, juniors clothing is targeted at teens and young adults (generally 15-25 years old). Granted, 15 is still a minor, but certainly not a child in the way you’re speaking. These shirts are not in any way offensive, since they’re not being marketed to little kids. Actually, even if they were, it wouldn’t be a problem unless you have the proverbial “Stick up the @$$.” What people need to do if they’re offended is not let your kids/adult children buy or wear this type of thing. However, don’t stomp on the rights of others who may find it funny. I don’t find it at all stigmatizing or demeaning, and like many of the other people here, I’m one of the “crazy” ones and I’m proud to say it!

      • This is an older post you can read the follow up post for more info… I just got picked up again today on Google with 8K views in one day. Read the other post and you will see how Kmart agreed with it and removed the shirt off line anyway. 🙂

  13. Social change starts with one voice speaking up over social injustice! Thanks for speaking up for the children!

  14. Thank you Chato Stewart for not letting this wrong go silent! Kmart shame on you!

  15. Many believe that if they let wrongs pass then they don’t have any responsibility! Not true! Not speaking up to avoid attrition is the same as giving a bless for the wrong in my book!

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  17. I am totally delighted with incredibly blog greatly that warned me. Thank you “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne

  18. This was a very awesome post. In thought! KMARTS sux! I want to put in writing like this additionally – taking time and precise effort to make a very good thing you did to bring this to our attention… I am glad Kmart did not procrastinate alot and not at all seem to get one thing done.

  19. I am much thankful to your lovely and teachful post, I like this style of writing, understandable by everyone.
    Good Job and will come back here soon for sure dude!

  20. Very sorry Chato B. Stewart. I believe this is a case of entirely misplaced ire. I do not find these tee-shirt messages in the slightest part offensive. If anything, they court a tolerance for difference, against naturally occurring human xenophobia, through the medium of gentle risibility.

    In all truth, the only agency bringing discrimination into this subject Sir… is yourself! It strikes me your super-sensitivity (which IS allowed, btw) is having a reds-under-the-bed McCarthy-moment here, a kind of martyr-meltdown.

    Why do I say that?

    Well, because as a 30-years, paid-up member of the bipolar community, full-fledged borderline, with many borrowed traits from other P.D.’s – I’ve been there, done that and (ahem!) bought the tee-shirt!

    In time, that extreme degree of sensitivity can pass, or at least be controlled and such knee-jerk reactions need not blight one’s existence further.

    Believe me Sir, this kind of over-reaction, while perfectly normal and indeed understandable within the psycho-interesting community – WILL NOT BE UNDERSTOOD by 99+% of the psycho-normals and this type of public expression serves only to undermine our righteous indignation when we justifiably react to real discriminatory practices.

    I AM psycho-interesting & I’m PROUD to be so!

    Despite the above; hopefully constructively apprehended criticism; I do in general thoroughly enjoy admire & applaud your stance… keep up the good work. Sterling effort!

    • BipolarBPD_Guy – the only think misplaced is the idea that these t-shirt offend ME...I don’t find the tee-shirts offensive… What upset me is that they were marketed to kids.

      You are “Psycho-interesting” because you have accepted your “illness”, you’ve learned to live with it and take control of it. Possible with therapy or medications or even on your own you became the ruler of you own mind and thinking… I congratulate you for this and admire your resolve not to letting mental illness have authority over you… The point is YOU made peace with it. As a father of four I worry about my children and I know what it’s like to be the weird kids in school… I even earned a nic-name in the projects where i grew up in…. PSYchO-Stew! My behavior should have been a red flag growing up… but because i associated the fear and stigma of being officially labeled “crazy” I avoided getting real health till in was 33. (23 years of uncontrolled up’s and downs – with deep depression and suicide attempts).

      Children in school with or with out a diagnosed mood disorder haven’t… by default, haven’t been taught it’s NOT okay to people make fun of people with psychological disabilities. It’s commen place to call other ‘crazy’, ‘retarded’, ‘pscho’ and so on with out ever thinking they are hurting other… or worst they are doing it TO HURT OTHER (bully).

      It’s Like they way some made fun of me for not being able to read in 6th grade and have behavior issues acting odd and “crazy”. So you say I’m “entirely misplaced” your wrong… I know first hand the damage these t-shirts can have on the psyche of a child. Being crazy is not a badge, it’s a label!

      Thank you BipolarBPD_Guy expressing your feelings! To sum up – I agree the t-shirts are not offensive in the large scope of things that are offensive… yet, marketing them to youths is where I draw the line!

      What is m

  21. Initially a diagnosis of Clinical Depression then Bipolar Disorder i was in DENIAL. Especially with the diagnosis is BP but my manic derringer totally cought my doctor’s attention. I think it’s a common scenario.

  22. I am pleased that there is even a conversation. I grew up in the 70s with a brother with Down Syndrome and Tourette’s. We couldn’t go anywhere, even Church, without people making fun of him. I laugh inwardly nowadays when the very people that I know back years ago couldn’t just leave my brother/family alone so we could enjoy a day at the park, Church, or whatever, now suddenly have kids with an “issue,” or they themselves have an “issue” and it’s not so funny anymore. Praise heavens that we can have these conversations. Thank God there are the “slow” baggers at the grocery store — lets just stop making fun of people with “issues,” and try to have some patience, get along, and realize that while I might find the humor in the “imaginary friends” t-shirt, our Public schools are mainstream and are full of kids with OCD, bipolar, ADHD, depression, cutting, whatever, and it’s great! It’s a better world for it.

  23. Great article, Chato. No matter which side of the argument one is on, this is a discussion very much worth having.

    I find the T-shirt using the word “crazy” less offensive than the one about imaginary friends. The word “crazy” seems to me to have gone way beyond a strict mental health usage and generally means “wild” more than psychotic to me. Wild colors, wild parties….etc. The one about imaginary friends seems more problematic to me. A teenager who has experienced mental health issues themselves or with someone in the family may have a more nuanced understanding of the social issues surrounding mental health. I’m not so worried about them. Others, especially younger kids probably won’t, and I don’t like the implication that it’s okay to joke about serious symptoms. If a similar T-shirt targeted those with other illnesses, I think there’d be some pretty strong opposition.

    I make jokes with good friends about my depression to help cope with it. It works because they understand the whole picture. I believe in humor to help us get by in the world. I don’t want K-mart formulating tacky jokes for me to make profit and getting kids to wear them.

  24. Errr…. I have bipolar to start off, with psychotic features I might add.

    And, when I was in college I had an old army ammunitions box which I converted into my art supply box. I painted it “tie-dye” style and covered in it funny bumper stickers.

    One of those stickers said: “Gone Crazy, Back Soon.” And, at that time I was having one of the worst psychotic episodes I’ve had in my entire life. One that lasted for approximately six years.

    And I do not feel stigmatized by a funny bumper sticker or t-shirt. Because, finding that light humor in things that unsettle us can often lead to understanding. As long as that humor is not derogetory. Now, if the t-shirt or bumper sticker said something like “Don’t mess with me I’m crazy and I have a gun” or “I’m a crazy B* and I’m going to get you,” THOSE are stigmatizing statements. Those are hurtful and wrong. “Crazy = Violent.”

    Sorry but some of the funniest things I’ve seen play off of symptoms that I actually have. Such as in a very old episode of “Whose Line is it Anyway” when it was still a UK show, and Colin Mochrie was suddenly to be a paranoid person in a race he said, “As long as I’m in last place, no one can be behind me.” I have HUGE struggles with paranoia, but it was FUNNY. It didn’t hurt my feelings.

    Plus, it may or may not be connotated as “mentally ill.” It doesn’t say mentally ill. Gone Crazy, Back Soon could mean “I’ve gone crazy with playtime! I’ll be back!” When my kids are super excited, and I have 3 boys, we say they are “going crazy” with happiness and excitement.

    So in this instance I disagree.

    • Labels hurt! Even if the one doing it is both the victim and the bully. This type of Self-deprecation humor is common and yes some times can hit our funny bone. As adults we are allowed to dip into the darker side of humor. This blog post was more a cautionary tales of what the bullying children could face.

      I thank you for your input, and I’m happy you found humor as a way to cope with your psychosis. Humor is a good tool but I caution you about using to much Self-deprecation humor, it is a real pit fall when others laugh, they are not laughing with you, more times than not they are laughing AT YOU. This is something I’ve been working on too, it’s a hard habit. to break.

  25. Seriously, we’re spending time and energy on a moderately clever quip that’s been around for decades? What bothers me most about this isn’t the ridiculousness in light of all the serious things we could be pursuing, but Chato’s insistence to control what the commenters should be feeling and thinking.

    Personally, to me it’s more offensive that Chato insists on associating the term “crazy” with mental illness when when so much effort went into disassociating from such words.

    I know (and fully expect) that Chato will respond to this comment disagreeing. I don’t care. I have important things to attend to, and what K-mart prints on their shirts doesn’t fall into that category.