Since it is that time of the year I felt it was important to address the spooky holiday that is Halloween, particularly in terms of costume and entertainment choices. Now I am going to try and do this in a way that doesn’t make me sound like a huge party pooper, because these times can be fantastic at bringing people together, celebrating and having fun. However, at times people cross the line and the entertainment is at the expense of others.
Halloween can be a great time for people to get creative and explore different ‘horror’ themes (and of course the treats). However, there is an increasing tendency for people to use ‘mental illnesses’ as part of the entertainment value which fuels the preexisting stigma. Using mental health for ‘fancy dress’ purposes can also take away the serious nature of such illnesses by making it into a joke this can make it harder for those affected to speak out and seek help.
There are often misconceptions that link violence and mental health, this is particularly the case in the media and often presents itself around this time of year more so. As a result of this a greater level of stigma is generated and it supports myths concerning mental health. Over recent years, there have been a number of high profile companies which has sold ‘mental patient’ and ‘asylum’ based costumes/decorations including that which was forced to be withdrawn by Asda and Tesco in 2013. Below is a small sample of some of the many unhelpful and stigmatising halloween examples which include straight jackets, blood-splatters, weapons, masks, asylum settings, all of which encourage misconceptions.
Mental illnesses are not costumes and they are not for your entertainment, they can be incredibly terrifying for those suffering BUT mental health is not a scary subject and should not be used as a ‘scare factor’. Depicting them in such a way only ends up promoting the idea that those suffering from a mental illness are ‘dangerous’ and ‘violent’ when in all honesty in the majority of cases the only ‘danger’ is to themselves and not to others. Research has also shown that those with mental health problems are far more likely to be the victim of crime rather than the perpetrator, with 45% of people with severe mental health problems having been the victims of crime within the past year, whilst 3-5% of violent acts have been attributed to people with mental illnesses.
There is an extremely high chance that someone you know is suffering from a mental illness; depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar, borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, OCD or one of the many other conditions that affect 1 in 4 of us. What must be realised is that what you wear for Halloween is your choice, those experiencing mental illnesses do not make this choice, this is not a costume, this is not entertaining, and this is their life. Therefore, this Halloween please be mindful of your choice of entertainment and choose not to fuel the stigma. So just ask yourself this one question, does your costume/entertainment perpetuate misconceptions about people with mental health problems? If the answer is yes, please think carefully about this and visit one of the many mental health charities to gain a greater understanding into the facts of mental illnesses. However, if you are still insistent on going as a 'mental patient' then you're in luck as it's a cheap costume, all you have to do is wear..... clothes.
If you have ever been affected by stigma at Halloween, please feel free to leave a comment about your experience of entertainment/costumes that have been stigmatising and how this made you feel.
That is all for now, wishing the day treats you all kindly and have a safe, respectful and enjoyable Halloween!