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Funny or Offensive?: Psycho Donuts

Apr 21 2009 | Comments 35

Okay, I’ve been restraining myself from getting involved in this debate, though frankly I have no idea why. At any rate, here’s the deal: There’s a donut shop in Northern California that takes an insane asylum as its theme. There’s a padded cell, a “nutcase” art display, and strange videos like this one:

Stigma watchers are not amused. In an open letter to Psycho Donuts, the National Stigma Clearinghouse’s Jean Arnold wrote:

In this bring-the-kids mecca of mega-calories, children can pose in a padded cell encased in a straitjacket. … What’s endearing about a straitjacket? Why do straitjackets, a symbol of force and humiliation, appeal to advertisers and product marketers? We can’t answer that question, but the National Stigma Clearinghouse archive shows straitjackets have been used as a marketing tool for many years. Twice in our experience, the marketers have tangled with Human Rights commissioners.

Although straitjackets are now mainly found on bondage websites and in S&M shops, for decades they caused death and suffering to untold thousands of mental institution inmates. Children are especially vulnerable, according to research by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis in 1998, accounting for 25% of the deaths. That study brought calls for nationwide reform.

… Unlike other powerful symbols of oppression (a lynching noose for example), it is sad that psychiatric medications, straitjackets, and padded cells are still used to amuse the general public. We respectfully ask Psycho Donuts to rethink the theme of their new store.

That’s unlikely. In an article in the Silicon Valley Mercury News, the store’s owner is quoted:

“I think that the community out there has taken what we’re doing and has turned it into something that was never our intention. When we’re talking about Psycho Donuts, we’re not referring to people; we’re referring to doughnuts,” Zweigoron said. “Our intention in all of this was never to hurt anyone. It was simply as a fun type of thing, adding an interesting and unique twist to selling doughnuts.

“There’s a Psycho Mouse ride at Great America, and there’s El Pollo Loco. At what point do you cross the line?” … “I find that the community at large is not offended by what we’re doing.”

But NARSAD disagrees. Below, a letter to the owners from the esteemed organization:

The website also has really good games on it, like Asteroids, which I just wasted 15 minutes on, and a virtual Etch-a-Sketch. The gallery has “weird” art, which is a stupid idea, but some of the artists seem vaguely talented. I like this work called The Lonely Satellite by Nicolas Caesar.

liz | 10:01 AM | Funny or Offensive?, hospitals / hospitalization, suicide

Alison Hymes Says:

If it was just the name as the others they refer to are that would be different, but it is making fun and inviting children to make fun of the suffering, pain, death and humiliation of their fellow citizens and among these children may be some who will grow up to enter a psychiatric hospital, what will their experience do to them, how terrified will they be? Saying, “lighten up” or get a sense of humor as they commented on my blog, which comments I did not approve not being willing to engage such nonsense, is an old familiar tactic used against groups trying to gain equal rights and equal respect in our society. It was used against feminists, it was used against gays and lesbians, it will continue to be used by folks who are not willing to look at their own prejudices and contributions to prejudice. Just my opinion.

Apr 21 11:31 PM

Knitting Clio Says:

Offensive, very.

Apr 22 2:30 PM

Jane Says:

What really needs to be highlighted in Santa Clara County (which contains the city of Campbell) is the “Real” institutions for mental disease. If they could only be the asylum’s they were originally intended to be — places of Sanctuary, then we as a County could say we’ve come a long way.

I look forward to hearing in the media hopefully about the long sought efforts of Santa Clara County’s Project TEAM to improve outcomes for members and also to improve conditions inside these asylums.

The asylum members are inadequately served due to the IMD exclusion.

© 2009 Jane Christol

Time to Change

In 1965 the federal government headed down a wrong path when it prevented Medicaid payments from being used for people in state psychiatric hospitals and other “institutions for the treatment of mental diseases,” or IMDs.

Now it’s time to change direction.

Far from moving people out of bad institutions and into improved community care, it has only made matters worse. The IMD exclusion has moved tens of thousands of people with severe mental illness out of hospitals. But too often they are dumped into jails, nursing homes, and onto the streets. Not spending money in the right places has put strains on the entire mental health system.

More than two generations have passed since Medicaid funds payments were put off limits for people who need inpatient psychiatric care. The experiment didn’t work and it’s time for change.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-La.) has introduced HR 619 to repeal this discriminatory provision. Rep. Johnson, a former psychiatric nurse, sees this as one way to address the link between mental illness and homelessness. You can help this effort by contacting your member of Congress today.



Treatment Advocacy Center historically has been known to argue that many patients reject services and are therefore “noncompliant”.

Camille Santoro writes, “Noncompliance” is simply a euphemism used to indicate that a person may be “uncooperative”; when choices are termed in this way, it only serves to expose how the free will, civil/human rights and dignity of an individual are being completely discounted and disregarded.”

Apr 23 8:13 AM

Mitch Says:

Thanks for the pointer to this doughnut shop Liz. It is not too far away from where I work and I plan to visit the place, probably buy a donut, and experience the place first hand.

That said, it really bothers me when people get so bent out of shape about stigmas. IMHO, it is them that perpetuate the stigma itself. You don’t break a stigma by hushing it — you break it by meeting it head on and illustrating that it is just that… a stigma. A professor of mine in college once reminded the class that he was in fact certifiably sane because he had a certificate saying so — his release papers from a mental institution after a mental break down years before. I’m reminded of this because I really respected the fact that he put himself out there and risked ridicule and allowed us to see that he was no different than anybody else.

It’s this hushing that has kept racial relations strained in the US as well as keeps stigmas alive and well. :(

As for NARSAD pointing to the changes in how cancer is seen — sure, but not because people ran around saying “don’t say/think that”, it changed because some brave people stepped up and said “yeah, I have cancer”. I think we are seeing better acceptance and understanding around depression and other mental illnesses are sure to follow as long as talking about them openly isn’t suppressed.

As a quick aside… Hey NARSAD… should I find it troubling that you end your acronym with “SAD” implying mental illness only revolves around sadness? Sorry.

Back to the doughnut shop. OK, I can see the concern, but rather than tell these guys to stop and whining about stigmas, perhaps these organizations should reach out to see how a business like this can educate and inform the public of the realities.

Apr 24 9:14 PM

Jo Says:

Yeah, I have depression. And generalized anxiety disorder. And post-traumatic stress disorder. And several other co-morbid illnesses that my psychiatric “team” has yet to tease out. It sucks. And what makes it suck even more is having to hear words like “crazy,” and “psycho” banded around like tether balls every day, all the time. After awhile, they add up. Personally, I would like people to just freaking stop using them altogether. I mean, the English language is huge and varied. Can we honestly do no better than to describe “eratic behavior” and “the vagaries of human life,” than calling them ‘psycho?’ Which, it seems I must point out, is shorthand for “psychopath,” an outdated term for someone with antisocial personality disorder.

See, words mean things, whether you intend them to or not. And quite frankly, these owners intentions don’t mean anything. They used psychophobic (i.e. that which demonstrates fear or hatred of people with psychiatric disorders or sensitivities) language( I mean, calling a doughnut “bipolar” — way to completely trivialize a serious disease there, guys!), and deeply psychophobic imagery, and it hurt people. It hurt a lot of people who daily deal with these illnesses. It hurt our loved ones and allies and probably more than a few of the clinicians and therapists with whom we interact. It hurt ME because I am so, so tired of facing lies and “humor” like this that feed directly into the silencing, trivializing and demonization of people like me. That show exactly why people like me chose for years to stay silent about our illnesses and not seek treatment.

So, Mitch, damn straight I’m “whining” and getting “bent out of shape” by these callous people’s little enterprise. Because psychophobia has real-life consequences just like sexism, racism and homophobia/anti-gay hate do. The only thing their doughnut shop is good for is to show people exactly how and under what guises psychophobia operates, and how so-called “sane” and “healthy” society contributes to the oppression and misery of people like me.

So no. Sorry. I can’t just take a joke.

Apr 29 7:55 AM

Jo Says:

And for the record, no. I don’t think people should be quiet about mental illness at all. But there’s a universe of difference between wanting to talk openly about depression or schizophrenia than wanting to strap a 12-year-old into a straight jacket and feed them a pastry as the kid mugs for the camera.

I question the use of humor about mental illnesses unless it’s being done by actual psychiatric survivors/consumers, who often times use it to combat the despair that comes with many of these conditions. I question it because so much of the so-called “humor” about these illnesses and those who have them has been trivializing and mean-spirited, and I honestly don’t see how (most?) people who aren’t familiar with what we deal with can create any thing but humor that is mean and trivializing. I don’t think we’ve come far enough as a society for that.

Apr 29 8:01 AM

Dan Says:

Psycho Donuts is absolutely offensive.

Apr 29 5:04 PM

michael Says:

you know i don’t like the term mental illness, it is really offensive to me, all mental institutions should be called brain inspectors. lol

May 4 11:39 AM

family member Says:

When I went to mental health court, re my husband, they had a straighjacket there – it shocked me but I can understand why someone in out of control homicidal mania would need to be either tasered or straighjacketed also. . .jump over to bipolar supporter blog and read what it is like on the other side of the fence for supporters.
With that said, why if mental illness is so “treatable” with medication are mental illness sufferers, many times, so lacking in insight to stay on meds that make it possible for them to live with their family or hold a job or behave in such a way that resembles having a conscience.????

May 5 7:05 PM

DRH Says:

Here’s the weird thing : it seems like the only real “stigma” here is the one that some folks are trying to attack to this donut shop. I live in Campbell and know many people who have gone to Psycho Donuts. Amazingly, none of them seem to harbor any hostility to people with mental illness or head trauma.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the cries of “stigma” are more about having a low regard for one’s fellow man. It’s easy to cry “stigma” when you assume yourself to be enlightened and caring … and others to be unfeeling idiots.

May 25 4:44 PM

Marissa P. Says:

Psycho Donuts is brilliant. I wish they would contribute to the Apocalypse Cakes blog:

May 31 2:58 PM

gorehound Says:

the Deadcats are Vancouver Psychobilly

May 31 6:25 PM

nicole Says:

I am a daughter of a mother who had schizophrenia and now I am the mother of a young man who has schizophrenia. I am open…my son allows me to be so as does my workplace. Psycho donuts has no redeaming qualities. There is no compassion, no respect, or consideration. Also, certainly no education to be gained from that shop as it stands today. It undermines those with illness, our entire families and also the providers of care. I have lived with schizophrenia for 50 years now…it could happen to anyone’s Mother and it could happen to anyone’s child…Recovery is possible but only when support, respect and compassion walk hand in hand in our community! Psycho Donuts could never admit that they are doing anything wrong because it’s all about making money to them…on the backs of people like my son and my mother? I feel immense Shame that we haven’t come very far in 50 years!

Jun 3 1:54 AM

rebecca Says:

Is it true we’ve given up the fight?

Why aren’t we agreeing to debate these scumballs on TV ?????

Jun 12 9:34 AM

» Coming Soon: Retard Kolaches -- Defending People -- Houston Criminal Lawyer Mark Bennett's Blog Says:

[...] in a situation than to pretend it doesn’t exist. But c’mon now, Psycho Donuts: “A padded cell, a ‘nutcase’ art display“? Straitjackets for the kiddos? “Bipolar” donuts? “Massive Head [...]

Jun 12 11:03 AM

mars Says:

Are you people f’n crazy? It’s a donut shop for christ sake! Do we need to go after restaurants that serve drunken chicken next? Alcoholism isn’t a joke.

Do you know that Psycho Donuts shares the same lot with a comic book store called Heroes? Heroes makes me think of 9/11 and I get panic attacks every time I see the place. Let’s shut them down!

Grow up people. Get a sense of humor. It’s a horror themed donut shop, that’s all. What the F happened to my America? This PC crap is ridiculous.

Jun 16 11:43 AM Says:

u r teh suck

Jun 30 12:22 AM Says:

no, rilly

Jun 30 12:24 AM

El Zorro Says:

Psycho Donuts (2006 Winchester Blvd Campbell, CA) is lots of fun and had great doughnuts; that’s not an issue.

The issue seems to be that people have chosen to act out their own insecurities by attacking this great business. Please get a grip, folks… nobody… repeat : NOBODY is developing “biases” based on a freakin’ donut shop. It’s an sad that your head carry such low opinions of your fellow humans; you should work on THAT.

Jul 14 12:56 PM

Killroy Says:

Its donuts peoplePsycho.

Jul 18 11:09 AM

Rosa Warder Says:

There is nothing funny about mental illness. To name donuts after conditions that can render persons seriously ill, change the course of their lives, have a life expectancy of 25 years less than the population’s median range is not a joke. Mental Illness is real, is prevalent 5% of the population estimated to have a psychiatric illness, and is often not treated, or inappropriately treated by our health care system. If the donuts were being named after childhood cancers, no one would think this was a good idea. Stigma hurts, stigma keeps people from getting help, and stigmatizing actions must be called to account. Psycho Donuts, change your name and your product names. Your “marketing idea” is abusive to persons living with mental illness and their families.

Jul 18 11:04 PM

Dave Says:

I have read through a few of the rants, and the only thing I can say is you people have alot of issues. I suffer from depression and anxiety disorder,look at it is a donut no thing else. Should we have Hollywood stop making horror movies or shoot’em up movies, NO they are just movies If you don’t like those movies don’t go to them.

My problem is the shop is to far away to try (i am in San Antonio) but my next visit to Ca I will try and make it there.

Remember people there are DONUTs, like an Xbox 360 game is a game or a movie is a movie nothing more. People get hung up on the meaning of words they are words nothing more.

Aug 5 7:15 AM




Aug 5 4:25 PM

Will Turner Says:

Wow. I understand that it’s offensive to some. Not to me, but if it’s really as terrible as everyone says, I’m sure they won’t be around for long. It’s kind of a lame concept to begin with and FOX news is the one who seems to care the most; always a bad sign. I even think the term “psycho” is short for “psychotic” which is a dated diagnostic term that is no longer used anyway. It’s a bad marketing pitch and an even more whiny reaction to what really boils down to individual opinion. I can think of many things I find offensive but I’m not begging FOX news to make them go away,

Aug 5 4:50 PM

Jay Adler Says:

Although I am not a civil rights attorney, I would guess that this discriminatory and hurtful portrayal of our citizens who are currently suffering from mental illness and those who are fully recovered and successful such as Britney Spears, Robin Williams and the late Rosemary Clooney who was a beloved vocalist of ours. America’s most successful actor is bipolar and one of our most loved female news personalities suffered the illness as well. Maybe someone with clout should get a law firm and proceed to the Justice Department and file a Discrimination Complaint. The complainant does not have to fear a counterclaim in this instance and and may not be, under federal law hindered or restrained from the filing. When I started school in Upper Manhattan in 1956 my required reading was Little Black Sambo. Suppose this chain offered a new dark donut and called it the Little Black Sambo? All hell would break loose and rightfully so and they would flash forward to insolvency. So it is okay to denigrate people with illnesses but do not go ethnic. Actually. there are 50,000,000 stigmatized individuals in America who are far more subjected to job, insurance and societal
discrimination than any other vertical group in society and is being again subjected to Black Comedy in this case by a firm selling a diabetes creating product that obese Americans should be avoiding anyway. Stark realty suggests that if this donut outfit is permitted to continue this outrageous behavior it is possible that some pitiful mentally ill person may be affected by their presentation and perhaps slit their wrists or walk into an office…………………….

Aug 5 11:29 PM

Jay Adler Says:

I will leave you with the bottom line. The surprised or favorable comments above are those sitting in the catbirds seat who devour donuts and have no thread to mental illness but should check their sugar.Those that want a cease and desist are either in the mental health system or have family or friends that are in or recovered. Those who for some reason who cannot further syllogism or simple logic never thought about the Don Imus event which exactly mirrors the donut chain’s mission statement, it is just aiming at another hated group of people.

Aug 5 11:42 PM

Rob Caver Says:

These are particularly sad times we live in when a donut shop owner tells us that his intention was not to perpetuate the stigma of mental illness, but to describe a donut as being “psycho”. I just don’t understand how they can justify their “local artwork” with a padded cell and other derogatory items. Oh look!…a bipolar donut with different toppings on each side… We aren’t stupid… Being a nurse, I take personal offense that their workers are allowed to impersonate licensed professional workers with their scrub outfits and stethoscopes. I’ll be contacting the California State Nursing Association for sure!

Aug 6 2:34 AM

aliceinnebr Says:

It’s a donut 4 pete’s sake don’t like it don’t look………don’t we have better things to do with our lives than complain about donuts??

Aug 6 4:04 AM

miss cheevy ass Says:

I was recently marveling about how donut shops lack creativity and I think I even blogged about it and now this! In all seriousness, I think pretty much everything could be funny and donuts are known for thier sense of humor. I feel sure that they will “move on.” As for the stigma watchers: If I wear super strong glasses I might see their point but on a gut level– god bless any break from the mundane! Give me nutso donuts, unholy donuts, cruellers and crazies, etc rather than donut king, donut world, USA donuts(all in Los Angeles in a mile radius.)

Great blog. I have many theories on “mental illness” and donuts and how Los Angeles’s donut shops are fronts to make it seem like the police are everywhere, or there could be a donut addiction here that is just not discussed. I will link you to my blog entry on donuts asap.

Aug 6 8:19 AM

robert campbell Says:

Everyone needs to get a grip. Its just a donut shop with a unique offering of very tasty items. What is happening nowdays? Christ sake, you can’t even be creative in your own business, calling donuts head trauma? I like the idea. how about donuts called, “mind your own business” if you don’t like what psycho donuts does, then don’t patronize the place. Everyone nowdays is so damn sensitive to what people say, what people do, what people wear. Mind your own damn business. I hope that psycho donuts flourishes, and all the complainers can just dip their heads in donkey poop

Aug 6 10:07 AM

kathy murphy Says:

Is a donut so important to you, as to make excuses for the disgusting theme of the place? What if they had a rape theme? Would you consider that any less offensive? I could imagine all kinds of traumatic themes. But then again, someone without any real creative ability as well could ,now could’nt they. Stop trivilizing mental illness.It comes in many differant forms.

Aug 6 10:29 AM

kathy murphy Says:

my comment wont post

Aug 6 10:39 AM

Will J. Says:

Really, some people are looking so hard for reasons to be offended. And I think that applies most to these “advocacy groups”. By definition these groups cease to exist if they can’t find something to protest and so they go after easy targets. I like the point made in the above article, why don’t they go after “El Pollo Loco”? Because too many people like “El Pollo Loco” and so they’d be ridiculed! (p.s. I’ve been to “Psycho Donuts” and love it, cute young women behind the counter and great donuts).

Aug 8 8:23 PM

James Says:

Heard that Psycho Donuts is going to start a “secret menu” with even more offensive names than the names they recently publicly announced were changing for the better. Here they go again…

Aug 16 11:33 PM

Joel Says:

you people are a bunch of uptight word-nazis…. are you also working on banning cocoa puffs commercials?

Sep 17 7:47 PM


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