File picture: Marvin Gentry

London - Mental health charities have criticised ghost tours of former mental asylums across Britain.

Mental Asylum Ghost Hunts, run by hauntedrooms.co.uk, take visitors on tours led by a paranormal team and give them the opportunity to take part in vigils, seances and experiments, including a Ouija board, glass divination, table tipping and medium workshops. Groups are also given time to explore these “frightening” and “sinister” locations.

But charities say these kind of events are helping to reinforce negative stereotypes.

Kate Nightingale, head of communications at Time to Change, a campaign to rid mental health of its stigma, said it was “concerning” that so many old mental health institutions were being used as attractions.

“This can only add to the stigma that surrounds mental health problems by perpetuating the myth that those of us with a mental illness may be ‘scary’.

“It also contributes to an outdated image of what mental health wards may be like – and this cannot be helpful for anyone considering seeking help for a mental health problem.”

Andy Bell, from the Centre for Mental Health, said: “There is still a huge stigma around mental health in our culture and changing it means tackling some deeply ingrained prejudices and fears.

“We have had some successful, potential change led by people with mental health conditions, but inevitably it’s deeply ingrained in our culture and it takes a lot of work to change misconceptions.”

Public concern has led to a petition to close a ghost hunt event at the Newsham Park Mental Hospital in Liverpool.

Mia Scott, 23, from Liverpool, launched the petition as the venue was being advertised as an “ex-orphanage and mental asylum”.

She said tickets were £75 (about R1 450). “They’re capitalising on other people’s misery.”

James Harris, head of communications at the Mental Health Foundation, said: “They are trading on the history of these buildings in a voyeuristic way when they really serve as a reminder of how badly treated people with mental illness were.”

The Independent