Halloween is a time for ghosts, goblins and trick-or-treating. But it’s important to remember that some Halloween costumes and related events can be offensive and hurtful to those in the mental health community.
Halloween costumes that portray “psych ward patients” or “mental patients” in a straitjacket are insensitive to people with mental illnesses. Few people would think it appropriate to dress up as an individual affected by AIDS or cancer. Dressing up or partaking in events that poke fun at mental illness are just as insensitive.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an estimated 43.7 million adults 18 and older are living with a mental illness. Nearly every person you meet is touched by mental illness, whether in his or her own life or in the life of someone they care about. Just over 20 percent of children currently or at some point during their life have had a seriously debilitating mental disorder, according to the NIMH.
The stigma attached to mental illness can deter an individual from getting help. Dressing up as a “psych ward patient” or “mental patient” in a straitjacket does nothing but reinforce that stigma. But it doesn’t stop with hurtful costumes. Haunted houses dubbed “asylums” or old psychiatric wards can be equally offensive. What appears to be all fun and games to one person can ruin the night and have lasting effects on a person living with mental illness.
As you plan for Halloween, please think about how your costume and celebrations could affect others. If the costume you had in mind or the haunted house you planned on attending could be offensive to those suffering from mental illness, think twice before taking part.
Halloween should be an enjoyable holiday for all – not one that causes pain and hurt feelings.
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