Customers who have complained to Amazon about T-shirts that make light of suicide say the online retailer has told them it will cut off sales “as soon as possible.”
But four T-shirts that were targeted in a Calgary teen’s campaign to de-stigmatize mental illness were still available for purchase at Amazon.ca on Friday morning.
Of the four, one no longer had a preview image Friday. On Thursday, that listing showed a shirt depicting a stick figure seated and eating popcorn as another stands on a chair with a noose around his neck, with the label “suicide watch.”
Shirts with the phrases “got suicide?” and “got depression?” printed across the chest were still being sold Friday on Amazon.ca, where they were each advertised by the seller as a “Funny Adult Men’s T-Shirt.” Another featuring the message, “SUICIDE makes our lives so much easier,” was also still for sale.
Bill Holling, a patient family advisor at Erie St. Clair community care access centre, says he sent a complaint to Amazon.ca about the T-shirts on Thursday and got a response a few hours later from an Amazon customer service representative.
In the e-mail reply, which was forwarded to the Toronto Star, Amazon offers “sincere apologies” if the T-shirts caused “any inconvenience or frustration.”
“I can assure that the ‘Suicide T-shirts’ will be removed from our website as soon as possible,” the Amazon representative wrote. “We do want to make sure that our site is safe and convenient for all buyers, and for that reason there are rules governing the listing of certain items.”
Amazon has not responded to repeated requests from the Star for comment.
Meanwhile, a petition launched by Toronto resident Mark Henick asking the company to remove the shirts has received thousands of signatures.
In an update Friday morning, Henick wrote that Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk have pulled the T-shirts, while Amazon.ca, Amazon.fr (France) and Amazon.de (Germany) still sell them.
Maggie Harder, 14, started a letter-writing campaign to Amazon headquarters in Seattle in late summer, asking the website to stop selling T-shirts featuring messages that she said stigmatize individuals affected by mental health issues.
She told the Star on Friday that she still has not received a direct response from Amazon.
“If the shirts have been removed from a couple of Amazon’s websites in different areas, then that’s huge,” Harder said. “The big next step is just awareness. If we can make more and more people aware of the stigma surrounding mental illness, then there will be less of it.”
“It all just happened in two days,” Harder said about the attention her campaign has received. “I was getting so many responses from supporters everywhere, all the way from Ontario to L.A. to even Australia.”
Holling, who lives in Chatham, Ont., said he was “shocked” he received a response from the company so promptly. “I was pleased with the response as long as they follow-up on their part,” he said.
He told the Star he got involved because the topic of mental health hits close to home. “I have had to go to people and sit down with them who have gone through a suicide, and so I don’t see anything remotely funny about it. It’s a very personal thing for many people,” Holling said.
“It does not take an awful lot to trigger someone to react and that’s the scary part of it: they haven’t figured out just what those triggers are and something like that stupid T-shirt could cause problems for somebody.”
A company that sells T-shirts on Amazon’s U.K. website has removed the “suicide watch” shirt.
“[It] was never my intention to cause offence,” Andrew Kretowicz of the Scotland-based company Screen-O-Rama told the Star.
“We buy many designs in, and as this one is causing offence, it will no longer be available,” said Kretowicz, who is also the director of clothing retailer 6TN.
An estimated 10 to 20 per cent of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, and suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Canadians between ages 15 and 24.
– With files from David Bateman