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Energy Drink 51Fifty Under Fire for Stigmatizing Mental Illness

An energy drink company is under fire for its name, which advocates say is stigmatizing and insensitive towards those with mental illnesses.

The drink, only sold in California, is called 51Fifty — the term used by law enforcement and first responders in the state when someone is deemed “a danger to himself or others” and needs to be evaluated and placed on involuntary psychiatric hold.

Its tagline is: “Live the Madness.”

Eve Hinson, who lives with post-traumatic disorder and suffers from psychogenic non-epileptic seizures, said when she first saw the 51Fifty delivery van in her town, she was outraged — and it didn’t take long for her to act. The next day, she launched the #TheReal5150 campaign.

“I wanted to make this negative a positive,” Hinson told The Mighty. “If they’re going to use it, we’re going to take it back.”

Using the hashtag, #TheReal5150, Hinson and her campaign partner Rhonda Wirzberger-Thornton encouraged people in the mental health community to share their stories. Meanwhile, they started a boycott of the brand and put pressure on local stores who were carrying the project.

One of those stores, Save Mart, pulled the drink from its locations just last week. According to ABC30, this was 51Fifty’s biggest big box retailer.

It’s important to us that we source local products. 51Fifty energy drink was popular among Save Mart shoppers; however, our sale of the product was never intended to diminish the seriousness of mental illness,” Save Mart spokesperson Nannette Miranda told ABC30. “We have made the decision to discontinue this product in our stores.”

According to ABC30, Carlos Vieira, CEO of 51Fifty Enterprises, said the name came from when he started racing cars — 51 was the number of his car and his friends “called him crazy for starting the hobby late in life.” Vieira said the name was, “A reminder to never quit and chase your dreams.

For Hinson and Wirzberger-Thornton, 51-50 is not just a code. Wirzberger-Thornton has been hospitalized in psychiatric hospitals at least a dozen times. And the same week she heard the news of Save Mart, her husband, who is bipolar 1 with psychotic features, was being evaluated under 51-50 to determine if he needed psychiatric intervention.

“So you can imagine my sensitivity,” she said. “People are saying I’m attacking freedom of speech. Well my husband is ‘living the madness’ — he almost killed himself.”

Now, they’re hoping other stores will follow Save Mart’s lead and pull the product. But ultimately, they’re after the trademark — hoping the company will change its name to something less stigmatizing.

The Mighty is still waiting for a comment from 51Fifty.

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