What would you do if you saw someone dressed up with an insulin pump, candy and fake needles glued to their outfit, wearing pale makeup, and purple lipstick? You would probably stop and say, “WTF is wrong with that person?” You would probably look in disgust at someone mimicking a person with a serious disease like diabetes. Right? Well, then why don’t we do the same thing when we see someone dressed in a straight jacket with fake blood splattered across it mimicking a ‘lunatic’ or person with a mental illness.
I don’t like to compare illnesses. Still, I am just trying to help you understand the problem with costumes and Halloween apparel or decor that mimics mental patients. Why do I have a problem with it? Because I am a human, and I was once a mental patient.
Halloween is a fun time of year, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying it to the fullest. Horror films, haunted houses and tours, and costumes are all great ways to enjoy the scary spirit of it. I love it as well; however, it is imperative to acknowledge where Halloween goes wrong and how it can be an extremely stigmatized holiday. When someone dresses up as a scary mental patient, they are increasing the stigma of mental illness. It may not be malicious, but it doesn’t matter.
Remember this, stigma takes lives, so every time we partake in any type of activity that increases stigma, we are also contributing to the increase of deaths. You may be thinking to yourself, “WOW, that’s too extreme!” Well, it’s not at all. In fact, I don’t think it’s extreme enough.
Haunted houses and attractions are decorated to look similar to what they believe to be a mental hospital. Years ago, The Washington Post published an article that exposed some of the harmful Halloween attractions that contribute to stigma.
In 2016, Six Flags had a Halloween attraction called “Psycho-Path Haunted Asylum” which was changed to the “The Forgotten Laboratory” after receiving heavy criticism from advocates. There are several popular theme parks and Halloween events that were called ouT for the same problem and were forced to change the names of their attractions.
In 2015, in the city I grew up in, Raleigh, North Carolina, there was a burst of outrage when local costume stores had the nerve to sell Dorthea Dix Halloween costumes. Dorthea Dix Hospital was a psychiatric hospital located in Raleigh. Only in the last couple of years has it stopped housing patients. Below is an image of the costume that was taken out of stores shortly after being released.
When I was younger, before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, on Halloween, one of the biggest dares was to walk through Dorthea Dix late at night. I remember the moment I stepped foot on the grounds, I felt so uncomfortable that I turned around and left. Less than a decade later, I would be involuntarily placed in a mental hospital. I understand that this problem is really based on a lack of knowledge about mental illness, which is why I’m writing this post.
In 2011, Villagevoice.com wrote an article about a store by the name of Ricky’s that sold a costume named “Anna Rexia,” mimicking a woman with the eating disorder anorexia.
When I typed into Google ‘mental patient halloween costumes,’ it is clear that this is still a problem. Popular chain stores online such as HalloweenCostumes.com, sells a costume called Women’s Insane Asylum Straightjacket. Party City also sells a similar item for men.
Although it is being talked about more today, it is still something you should be aware of when it comes to this spooky holiday. The longer we continue to portray people with a mental illness as monsters, the longer people hide in shame and suffer.
People with mental illness are not scary. Heres an idea, if you want to dress up as something horrifying this Halloween, dress up as “Ignorance.” Boo!
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