'Psycho Donuts' Divide Mental Health Community

"I think it's a fine line but you know when you've crossed it," said Joel Gurin, president of the schizophrenia and depression alliance. "I think the fact that people in this world say that's a 'crazy' idea, that's a 'crazy' doughnut ... it really goes beyond that."

Gurin said a doughnut shop with a "vernacular" use of a crazy theme would not be offensive, but that Psycho Donuts crossed a line because the decor and food mocked real psychoses and the treatment of mental illness.

But Zweigoron said he receives about four calls or E-mails a day from people with mental illnesses who support his business and think the theme is funny. And, as protests ramped up, Zweigoron said he only got more business from the media coverage.

Nadine Kaslow, the chief psychologist at Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta, said she was not surprised to hear some in the mental health community thought the doughnut shop was funny.

"Obviously, people are going to have a mixed reaction to this, even people with mental health issues, even mental health providers," Kaslow said. "But I think, in general, there is still a stigma for mental health issues."

A Middle Ground in Doughnut Controversy

Advocate Gurin said such a stigma -- which harkens back to the idea that mental illness was a character flaw -- translates into a reluctance to talk about mental health in public, poor funding for mental health care and additional burdens on people already fighting a difficult disease.

Advocate Wright said, "People would hear this for the first time and say, 'What's the big deal, it's a joke.' I don't fault people for having the other point of view, I think most of the time it's an issue of understanding. You couldn't have a cancer doughnut or a diabetic doughnut or anything of that nature because the public has become aware of those issues."

Initially, Zweigoron and the co-owner of the business resisted making any changes to the business model.

"We said, 'We're sorry, it's not your business," he said. "You don't have a right to tell us how to run our business. It's a free country, it's America."

A Doughnut Reconciliation?

But since Wright and others advocating for mental health issues have called for a compromise to use the notoriety for education, Zweigoron has bought out the other co-owner and promised an "evolution" in his themed doughnut shop.

"There have been some encouraging developments lately," Zweigoron said. "I've had a meeting with some of these folks. The reality is our business is not a typical kind of business. It's always going to be constantly evolving."

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