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Straight-Jacketed Valentine Gift Is "Unbearable" To Vermont Advocates
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 13, 2005

MONTPELIER, VERMONT--It might have been meant to be sweet and cute, and to let your Valentine know how loveable he or she is.

But the "Crazy for You Bear", sold this season by the Vermont Teddy Bear Company, is anything but loveable, say local mental health advocates.

The 15-inch, honey-colored bear is wrapped in a straight-jacket and comes complete with a commitment report declaring "Can't Eat, Can't Sleep, My Heart's Racing. Diagnosis -- Crazy for You!"

The bear had been on sale for a few days before it caught the attention of Jerry Goessel, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill's Vermont chapter.

"A strait jacket is not a symbol that we want to associate with sales of a teddy bear for loved ones over Valentine's Day," wrote Goessel in a letter to the company. "And the use of commitment papers, legal documents committing an individual to involuntary treatment, is not something to be taken casually."

Goessel asked the company to remove the bear as it offends many of the estimated 12,000 people with severe mental illness in Vermont and others affected by mental illness.

Vermont Teddy Bear spokesperson Nicole L'Huillierin replied in a statement that the bear was not designed to insult people with disabilities.

"We mean no disrespect to those with mental illnesses," she said.

L'Huillierin added that the company will stop selling the bear -- sometime after February 14.

That is not good enough for Goessel and others, including Vermont lawmakers.

Governor Jim Douglas on Thursday called marketing of the bear "very insensitive", but stopped short of telling the company what to do. According to the Burlington Free Press, a legislative panel committee is drafting a letter of complaint about the bear.

Advocates said they want to meet with officials at the company over the issue.

"The marketing use of a straight jacket . . . sends a message to the general public that is contradictory to treating persons with illness as persons first," Goessel told the Rutland Herald.

"Fortunately, there are fewer and fewer items of this type that discriminate against persons with mental illness," he said. "It is so striking when we do come across it."

"Sweet or tasteless?" (Rutland Herald)
"Vt. Teddy faces pressure over bear" (Burlington Free Press)
Crazy for You Bear (Vermont Teddy Bear Company)


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