'Psycho Donuts' Divide Mental Health Community

Psycho Donuts

Jordan Zweigoron had envisioned an "edgy" doughnut shop. But he had no idea his themed store in a strip mall in Campbell, Calif., would incite protests and TV broadcast debates about the mentally ill in America.

"The trouble started about two weeks in after opening," Zweigoron said. "A small handful of people took what we were doing very literally."

In Zweigoron's shop, Psycho Donuts, customers are handed bubble wrap to pop as they come through the door. Cashiers dress in old-fashioned nurses' outfits and patrons can get their picture taken in straight jackets near a mock padded room before they head out to sit in the "group therapy" area.

Many of the doughnuts in Psycho Donuts have nothing to do with mental health, such as the triangular "FungShui" green tea-flavored doughnut or the s'more-flavored treat. Indeed, Zweigoron said his initial business model was simply to reinvent the doughnut. The name came afterward.

"We looked at our own kitchen and said, 'These are really crazy doughnuts,'" he said.

Now many doughnuts -- like the bipolar doughnut with half chocolate frosting and nuts, half coconut flakes -- take names straight from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders that psychologists and psychiatrists use to diagnose patients.

Trouble at Psycho Donuts

"When the complaints started, the complaints were everything all at once. We have a doughnut called the Massive Head Trauma, the doughnut resembles a man who had ... better days," Zweigoron said.

The Massive Head Trauma, or M.H.T. for short, is a jelly filled doughnut with a frosting face with the letter "X" for eyes.

The M.H.T is one of Zweigoron's best sellers but "some customers said, 'What about the veterans coming back from Iraq with head injuries? This is offensive,'" Zweigoron said.

It wasn't long after Psycho Donuts opened in March before protests began.

"When I saw them [the doughnuts], it was total shock," said Oscar Wright, CEO of the United Advocates for Children and Families, a group that supports families of children who need mental health services. "The Massive Head Trauma -- to have a doughnut with a white glazed face and jelly oozing out the side of its head, it was incomprehensible."

Wright even debated Kipp Berdiansky, a former co-owner of Psycho Donuts, on a San Francisco Bay Area television show earlier this summer.

Wright pointed out that 50,000 people a year die of massive head trauma. "I don't think those mothers and those fathers and those grandchildren will appreciate a joke about massive head trauma," he said

As a former advocate for small businesses in California, Wright said he was supportive of the creative doughnut model. But, as a parent, Wright said he didn't see mental health as a joke either.

Can Doughnuts Contribute to Mental Health Stigma?

"Here in California we've got approximately 1 million kids who have a mental health disorder and 600,000 of them will not receive appropriate treatment," he said.

"Why is that? One is an issue of resources. But there are many parents who simply don't move forward with early prevention with their child because of social stigma," Wright said. "How do I know that? Because I was one of those parents."

Wright's organization, along with the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and, eventually, the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, has called for Psycho Donuts to change its theme.

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