Take Mental Health Stigma Out of Halloween
Would You Wear a "Cancer Patient" Costume?
Of course the answer to the question presented above is "NO!". Why would anyone poke fun at or make light of an illness that is so serious? The same question applies to mental health issues. The World Health Organization reports that mental illness results in more disability in many countries than any other group of illnesses, including cancer and heart disease. Mental health illnesses are just as real and just as serious as cancer, mortality rates included, yet why does society still find it necessary to make light of them and even make fun of them?
On this page we will look at some common themes of Halloween, question their intent, and implore people to fight back against mental health stigma as exacerbated and perpetuated by specific Halloween themes. I love the holiday as much as the next guy, but just as we don't make light of cancer, let's also not make light of serious mental health issues that affect a very large portion of the world's population. Such stigma and false representation of mental health illnesses is offensive, insensitive, irresponsible, callous, and just plain dangerous. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that nearly 2/3 of people with mental illnesses live in silence and do not seek necessary treatment, largely out of the fear of embarrassment that stigma and ignorance cause. Think of the high suicide rate in people with certain mental illnesses and ask yourself if you really want to be a part of perpetuating the stigma that deters people from getting the treatment they need in order to live healthy lives. Together, we can take mental health stigma out of an otherwise fun holiday - Halloween!
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Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.— Bill Clinton
Recent Uproar over Asda and Tesco Costumes that Stigmatize Mental Illness
On Wednesday, September 25, 2013, British companies Asda and Tesco underwent a Twitter-storm of criticism over their Halloween costumes labeled "Mental Patient" and "Psycho Ward". The picture above is of Asda's "Mental Patient" costume. Twitter blew up with people posting their "Mental Patient" costumes. I posted this picture of my super-scary mental patient costume, complete with a successful mother-of-4 look:
**Notice I'm not wearing a blood-spattered straightjacket nor toting a meat cleaver.**
Asda and Tesco pulled both costumes off their shelves, undoubtedly to save face, and Asda pledged to donate a chunk of money to a mental health organization. The question is, why would any company even think about making such inaccurate and insensitive costumes in the first place? This is just plain callous and irresponsible. Do they not know that almost half of the U.S. population has or will have some type of mental illness during their lives? Since many people still think of people with mental illness as cleaver-toting "crazy" people, doesn't it make sense that many individuals, including our precious children and teens, are afraid to talk about mental health problems they may be having and fail to seek needed treatment?
Please click on the links below to read more about the recent Asda and Tesco story:
2 Big Supermarkets Apologize After Backlash about "Mental Patient" Costumes
Don't Choose a Costume that Reinforces Dangerous Stigmas
I am not a prude. My kids dressed up as bloody zombies last year. There they are over there on the right. My point is that it is insensitive and irresponsible to dress in a costume that reinforces a dangerous stigma. The U.S. Office of the Surgeon General reports that stigma represents one of the greatest barriers to people who need help for mental illness. Costumes that incorrectly label real people with real illnesses and words and terms that stereotype people like "psycho", "crazy", "wacko", "loony bin", "schizo" and others discourage people from speaking out and getting help. Imagine the effect on our young people!
"Why You Shouldn't Go 'Crazy' This Halloween" by Katie Kerns on Everydayhealth.com is a great article that talks more about avoiding Halloween costumes that stigmatize mental illnesses.
Haunted Houses and Mental Health Stigma
I personally love haunted houses, and the scarier, the better. However, using mental health issues to scare people and to make a profit is WRONG.
Recently I ran across a blog post entitled "I'm So Angry!" , written by a well-known and quite talented blogger who is also a parent of a child with bipolar disorder. The post described a story that I will summarize here, but please read the full blog post by clicking on the link provided above:
Last year a haunted house near the author's hometown featured disturbing characters and scenes involving real-life mental health issues. One of the scenes depicted a young girl cutting herself with the words "no more pain" written in blood somewhere near her. Knives, broken glass, and other sharp objects surrounded her. Another scene at this particular haunted house featured a sign that read "Med Station" and young children waiting in line. The author of the blog mentioned in the post that her community has a high suicide rate. Imagine the indecency, the callousness, and just plain stupidity of the people who came up with these ideas and actually carried through with them. Can you imagine taking your children into this haunted house? Imagine how it would affect them. Imagine the real children and teens who do cut themselves in real life because of a chemical imbalance that they cannot control.
The author of the post goes on to say that she talked to the director of the haunted house, who genuinely seemed apologetic and concerned. However, this year this same haunted house advertised that they were featuring a "Maze of Madness" that they deemed appropriate for kids aged 10 and up. The author again spoke to someone in charge at the haunted house, who seemed proud of or at least tickled by the fact that this year's attraction featured more than one straight jacket.
Just a Few Examples of How Hard Mental Illness Can Be... - ...even without adding stigma to the mix.
Step by step, we will break this cycle of silence, poor information and stigma.— Chevy Chase