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. 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 really stigma fuelling time for those with mental health problems, from sensationalist films to costumes which add to the misconceptions linking violence and mental health problems. It can be a great time for people to get creative and explore different ‘horror’ themes, however, there is an increasing tendency for people to use ‘mental illnesses’ as part of the entertainment value which simply fuels the pre-existing stigma. Using mental health for ‘fancy dress’ purposes can also take away the serious nature of such illnesses and can make it even harder for those affected to speak out and seek help. Sadly, this is nothing new, every year around this time there seems to be a particular retailer or costume that is flagged up as promoting mental illness as something to be feared. Over recent years, there have been a number of high profile companies that has sold ‘mental patient’ and ‘asylum’ based costumes/decorations including those, which were withdrawn by Asda and Tesco in 2013 following public backlash.
Though, this year there seems to be fewer ‘examples’ from big retailers, one from ‘Escapade’, has been shared across many online platforms. Through a huge backlash, including a petition currently at almost 8,000 signatures the costume seems to have been removed from their site, however, sadly other costumes such as ‘cell block psycho’ still remain available to purchase. I think actually one of the most difficult aspects of this was the response that Escapade gave, "It's exactly the same as selling a clown costume. There are people who are terrified of clowns and people who are scared of mentally ill people”. Instead of fuelling the ‘fear’ we should be working harder to remove the stigma that creates fear as a result of misconceptions and educate to remove the ‘fear of the unknown’. Living with a mental illness can be incredibly scary, but those experiencing it are not. We are not a costume and we are not for your entertainment. We are human. We are 1 in 4.
It’s deeply upsetting to see such stereotypes, and the idea that some believe another human’s suffering is something to be mocked, to be seen as scary is quite frankly, disgusting. If you were to walk into a shop to buy a Halloween costume and you came across a cancer patient there would be huge uproar, even just writing this makes me feel sick. Yet, it is seen as ‘normal’ for mental illness to be used in this way over Halloween, and this is an attitude that desperately needs changing. It shouldn’t just be the 1 in 4 that speaks up against injustice; it should be 4 in 4. Whether you have experienced a mental illness yourself or not, you WILL know someone, a friend, a family member, a colleague who does and it is time to stand up and speak out.
What can you do if you see something stigmatising this Halloween?
Share on Social Media – The power of social media cannot be underestimated; through the power of likes, shares, and retweets retailers are able to gain an understanding of how the public have responded to a product. This can help to get retailers to remove certain items from their stores, such as happened with Tesco and Asda in 2013. This also helps to give others a chance to voice their opinion on certain products and/or themes being promoted.
Contact Retailers – Contact the seller directly. Tell them how this has affected you, why you feel it is inappropriate and direct them to Time to Change, the UK’s leading anti-stigma and discrimination campaign. At the end of the day, these products are isolating 1 in 4 of their potential customers, resulting in profit loss – most retailers will want to hear their customer’s views to act upon appropriately.
Personal Experiences – Sharing your experiences is not easy. However, it is powerful. It does have the ability to change attitudes and behaviours. It will encourage understanding and provide hope. Your voice has more power than you believe. Let people know how these costumes and decorations make you feel.
Put Your Health First – Most importantly, Halloween can be a difficult, and sometimes triggering time of the year for many who are struggling with their mental health. If you find this time of year difficult, take a step back and put your health first. Speak to a loved one about how you are feeling and do not be afraid to seek help.
Wishing you all a fun, sensitive and respectable Halloween.