Mental Illness Is Not A Halloween Costume
Many may view Halloween as a fun holiday to dress up and get free candy. However, Halloween has a dark history with mental health. Its caricatured use of individuals with mental illnesses, use of haunted asylums, and even the partiality towards “psycho” killers, take the very real history of the use of asylums in America and minimizes the experience of the individuals who have survived them and fought hard for their rights to be recognized.
Mental-illness stigma is all around us, especially when it is portrayed on television and in movies where people with psychosis are routinely portrayed as serial killers or even worse. As if the media portrayal of those with mental illness isn’t bad enough, mental illness has been exploited as a Halloween attraction for years.
So, how can you address mental stigma while enjoying this spooky season?
Here are some ways to make a difference this Halloween:
Be mindful of costume choices. Dress up as a ghost or a goblin – but using someone’s experience with mental illness as a costume because you think it’s “scary” is never okay. Using actual people with real experiences is never okay to caricature. If you know someone who might be considering dressing up as a “mental patient,” take this opportunity to tell them how that upsets you and offer to work with them to find a more creative costume.
Start a conversation. Write, call, or meet with the organizers of Halloween events or parties. Let them know that mental health is an issue that you care deeply about and offer them your expertise. For example, suggest that a “haunted asylum” themed event be changed to a generalized hospital theme with zombie doctors. Re-framing haunted attractions around the idea of the supernatural is a great way to celebrate Halloween and avoid stigmatizing actions.
Spread awareness. Read up on how “scary” stereotypes of individuals with mental health conditions perpetuated around Halloween does real harm. The use of language is critical to ensuring a recovery-oriented and person-centered approach. It is important that people are seen first as people and not seen as their mental health condition. It is imperative to assess the way we use language and how the use of language reinforces negative biases or promotes empowerment and strengths. It is helpful to remember that people often identify by roles where they find meaning.
Halloween is supposed to be fun – and you can still do that while taking the opportunity to educate your friends and family about mental illness. Remember, individuals living with mental health conditions aren’t scary, but the way we treat them can be. Don’t be a part of the problem this Halloween.