Every Halloween it seems that mental illness is unfortunately brought up as a form of entertainment. Whether it is in haunted houses, movies, or the costumes that people purchase, mental illness is especially stigmatized during this season. Haunted houses and movies featuring psychiatric patients being especially violent, along with insensitive costumes of “asylum patients” are very inaccurate and portray mental illness negatively. Instead of instilling fear about mental illness and dehumanizing people with mental illness, this should be a time to raise awareness and educate people about the facts.
“The general public fears people who have mental health conditions,” said Susan Rogers, a mental health advocate and director of the National Mental Health Consumers’ Self-Help Clearinghouse. Halloween attractions at theme parks or in the theaters seem to perpetuate that fear. Recently, a theme park in California closed its “Fear VR” attraction after receiving a lot of criticism from mental health advocates. Although the park did close the attraction, there is a need to understand why it would open such an attraction in the first place. It all goes back to not being educated and allowing misconceptions about mental illness.
The use of hurtful, scary costumes depicting mental illness at Halloween also furthers the mental health stigma. With one in five Americans living with a mental health condition, it is a common experience and should not be made into scary costumes. In fact, evidence shows that those with mental illness are no more violent than those without mental illness. Actually, they are more likely to have a violent crime committed against them. By allowing Halloween costumes that are aimed at mental illness, we may actually prevent those in need of mental health treatment from going to get it.
With a little advocacy, Halloween can be a safe and fun holiday for all. By increasing awareness about mental health and by educating others, change can occur. It is important to realize that most people recover from their mental illness and live full lives with the right treatment. Instead of using a mental health disorder to inspire Halloween, let’s use it to inspire change.
Lori Atkinson, Operations Assistant for The Kim Foundation
Lori Atkinson joined The Kim Foundation in May 2015 as an Operations Assistant. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from UNL in Middle Level Education. She was an 8th grade English teacher in the Omaha Public Schools for ten years and started a small non-profit in her husband’s memory in 2010. Lori assists with many of the day-to-day tasks for The Kim Foundation which includes scheduling presentations in the community, coordinating booths at conferences, attending mental health trainings, researching mental illness/suicide, and working community events. Lori is the proud mom of three children and is actively involved in her church.