Think before you dress up for Halloween
When I started AMHA, the goal has always been to raise awareness and address the many causes of stigmas which continue to make life very hard for those with Mental illness. A subject which I have wanted to discuss for some time is Halloween, given its October already, I felt it was a good time to bring up the subject.
For those who know me, it’s no secret I don’t like, nor celebrate Halloween, but that doesn’t mean I am going to judge and criticise those who do, but something I would like to discuss today is costume choice.
Halloween in the UK seems to have been thoroughly ingrained into our yearly calendar, what was once an American holiday seems to have emigrated its way over, with costumes getting more extreme by the year. Just when you think you have seen it all, up pops a nine-year-old girl on Facebook dressed as a Holocaust Survivor with a Jew badge, or a Nazi outfit with swastika to match. I mean wow…. Really? Not exactly a white sheet with holes cut out for eyes. A very popular costume choice which seems to get worse every year is the mental illness theme.
I have never understood why manufactures irresponsibly create, promote and sell mental health themed costumes (among the many other ridiculous outfit ideas), and I don’t understand why anyone would wear them and think its ok because it’s just for fun, or just for one day of the year. To dress up as a mental illness is suggesting that it’s something to be laughed at, or be scared of. You don’t see people going around dressed up as Anne Franks or perhaps a cancer patient, or a real-life murderer/rapist, something deemed inappropriate and untasteful. Yet for some reason, it’s become ok to dress up as a ‘Schizo’, or someone with a straitjacket with psychological issues, or a crazy knife wielding murderer, even t-shirts with the words crazy or manic seem to be a favourite on amazon this year, I’ve even seen costumes for drug addicts, alcoholics and those with an eating disorder, and that’s only what I’ve happened to bump into at Tesco, im sure the selection is far more vast.
Unfortunately, many of the stigmas and ideas about mental health have come from centuries of misunderstanding the mind, the brutal treatments of patients and fear mongering among the public and media, it doesn’t help that books, tv and films still portray this primitive view of mental health and use it as a basis for comedy, horrors and thrillers for many decades. By dressing up as an escapee from a psychiatric ward, or a person wearing a straitjacket suffering from psychotic episodes, all it does is trivialise these experiences and builds on that fear and poor understanding. To dress up as a mentally ill person is to put mental illness on the same level as a rapist, murderer or a bloodthirsty vampire.
What troubles me even more, those with mental health problems are not united on this matter, I’ve seen a few articles and blog posts over the last few weeks with people discussing mental health themed costumes, so many in the comment section state they are ok with it, even though they have mental illnesses themselves. I would hope all who have experienced a form of mental illness would stand up and try and put themselves in each other’s shoes, unless we say it’s not ok, it will continue to happen, we don’t all suffer mental health the same way, and some forms of mental health can be so severe it results in being sectioned or becoming an inpatient, which can be a very scary, lonely time. Yet people are still wearing straitjackets for Halloween, with comments of ‘it’s all in good fun’, ‘no ones being harmed’, which I think is a dangerous, naive attitude to have especially when you haven’t experienced sectioning for yourself, im sure those who have had to endure that kind of treatment are not ok with these kinds of costumes, but are not able to speak up for themselves. I’ve never been sectioned myself, but with all the years of severe mental health, I know im certainly not ok with it. I find it quite distressing and it makes it more difficult to speak openly about mental health at t, especially if you know it’s been used as a prop for a bit of fun every year. Mental health is a very personal thing especially as it can affect your personality and how people perceive you, which from personal experience, can bring judgement, stupid and very naive rude comments.
I do find it ironic, which is rare for me, throughout the year, the majority of people don’t dare bring up the subject of their own Mental health in fear of others opinions, or openly discuss or comfort others suffering from Mental Health in case they upset them for saying the wrong thing, yet come Halloween, herds of people of all ages (as i know it’s not just children dressing up for Halloween), are wearing some of the most inappropriate, stigmatising, and hurtful costumes with mental illness themes with no thought about the impact it might have on those with mental health problems.
If we are to battle mental health stigmas and the general attitude towards it, we need to start with the basics like how mental health is advertised / represented in products, films, TV, merchandise, and make sure we are not having a good time at the expense of others. Ultimately, we want to encourage earlier intervention for everyone, and make the lives of those with mental illness easier, judgement and stigma free aswell as encourage more openness at school, colleges, universities, in the home and in the workplace.
For those who are a big fan of Halloween and are reading this, I implore you to please think about your choice of costume this year, and consider the damage and consequences It will cause, don’t encourage manufacturers who create these awful costumes by purchasing them, I am also hoping not to see any Anne Franks, or Cancer patients roaming the streets this year.
At the end of the day, mental illness does not affect a small select number of people, it’s not rare and every single person on the planet is prone depending on circumstances, when the mentally ill are stigmatised and associated with costumes of murderers, crazy escapees from asylums / nut houses, you’re not only hurting others by wearing it, but also making it harder for yourself, your friends and family if they suffer from a form of mental health themselves now or in the future.
Lastly, please remember this, when a person dresses up as mental illness, at the end of that day, they can come home, take the costume off and wipe their faces clean from makeup and slip into something comfy, yet those who really do have mental health conditions don’t have that luxury, they aren’t wearing a costume or makeup, they have to suffer day in, day out without let up, they have to not only suffer with the consequences of mental illness and the awful side effects of medication, but also the attitude of those around them who have built up their own ideas of mental health because of the existing stigmas.
Think before you dress up!! It’s not scary or funny to use Mental illness as a Halloween theme.