See the bear here

The Vermont Teddy Bear Co. will continue to sell a bear wearing a straitjacket through Valentine's Day, despite opposition by the state's mental health community.

The company said Wednesday it would not pull the controversial $70 "Crazy for You" bear from its Valentine's Day lineup. It did apologize if the stuffed animal offended anyone.

"We recognize that this is a sensitive, human issue and sincerely apologize if we have offended anyone," the Shelburne-based company said in a statement released late Wednesday afternoon. "This was certainly not our intent. This bear was created in the spirit of Valentine's Day and as with all of our bears it was designed to be a light-hearted depiction of the sentiment of love."

Light-hearted is not how the state's mental health community viewed the 15-inch bear, which comes complete with commitment papers and is a gift designed "for someone you're crazy about."

The Vermont chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill complained about the bear in a letter Monday to the 20-year-old bear manufacturer, calling it a "tasteless use of marketing that stigmatizes persons with mental illness."

It was the first formal criticism of the product since it appeared for sale days ago, and the alliance asked the company to pull it from its shelves.

On Wednesday, one of the state's leading mental health advocates ripped Vermont Teddy Bear's decision to keep selling the bear and suggested that opposition to the bear would intensify.

"I would say that there is an opportunity here to definitely educate the public about the stigma of mental illness," said Ken Libertoff of the Vermont Association for Mental Health.

"We share a concern about the Vermont Teddy Bear marketing approach here," he said, "and it would be very important for the company to meet with mental health advocates so that they could understand why they should change their marketing approach."

He criticized the use of a straitjacket and commitment papers as a symbol of love, saying it diminished the plight of those who suffer from mental illness.

More than 12,000 Vermont adults are said to have severe mental health problems.

"It's most inappropriate to use this campaign," Libertoff said. "To the degree that a straitjacket is used for a marketing tool as a certain comic twist is most inappropriate."

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