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Halloween celebrations are here and we can look forward to seeing creative and funny decorations and people dressed up in various costumes meeting at Halloween parties and parades. Many people are willing to spend days working on their costumes and the results are amazing, funny, creative. Unfortunately every year you could also see how some Halloween costumes increase the stigma associated with mental illnesses. In this article, we would like to tell you how to make sure you’ll have a mentally healthy Halloween.
Why and how Halloween celebration could affect people with mental health issues
Do you know how and why Halloween affects people struggling with mental health problems? If no, it’s okay, the answer is not so clear and obvious. Let’s take a closer look at this problem.
We all know the goal is to look scary… But what can we really call ‘scary’? Notice what are the common topics of horror movies, games, Halloween masks, or spooky stories. Yes, there are ghosts, vampires, witches, skeletons, haunted houses. However in many horror movies, there are also psychiatric hospitals and people with mental illnesses, people dress like ‘freaks,’ ‘insane people.’
This all could be really harmful to people with mental health issues. Every day they need to deal with their struggles and face comments filled with stereotypes and prejudices, sometimes coming also from their loved ones.
As you can read in Kendra Cherry’s article some individuals experiencing symptoms of mental health disorders often hide their problems because they are afraid of consequences. They are afraid of how their boss/colleagues will react, they are not sure if their friends would still talk to them and look at them the same way... With all these possible troubles the people often won’t reach out to mental health experts and they don’t get the help they need. That’s terrible!
So what happens if I dress like a person with a mental health disorder
Knowing all this, I bet you could now imagine that dressing up as a person with a mental health disorder could cause many problems.
First of all, you would probably try to make the illness very visible, significant and your expression would probably not be accurate at all... But you would be sharing the message ‘This is how people with mental illness look like!’ This way you would contribute to the increasing stigma associated with mental health issues. If someone who really experiences mental health illness would come by and see you he could possibly say ‘okay, so this is how others see me…’ The same thoughts could fill the minds of parents/friends of that person - ‘Is my child/ my friend going to look like that?’ These kinds of wrong portraits of people with mental health issues support discrimination and fear.
Psychiatric hospitals appearing in horror movies and games are spooky old ugly buildings filled with ‘insane’ people attacking and killing visitors. If we keep on getting this picture how could we accept the treatment in these institutions or how could we not discriminate and be afraid of someone who was treated in a psychiatric hospital? In reality, you could see that it’s definitely not how these institutions look.
And what about sexy skeletons???
Some people find it cool to dress up as a ‘sexy skeleton.’ This is connected to anorexia, there even was a costume for sale called ‘Anna Rexia’ which had two parts - tight and short skeleton- print dress and a measuring tape ribbon belt. This mask is really offensive for people suffering from Anorexia. In Tess Koman’s article you can see the costume and read the reaction of an anorexia survivor who felt really offended by this cruel mask.
What should I do?
Be respectful and before you put on your Halloween costume ask yourself: ‘Is this costume allowing me to have fun without hurting other people?’ I believe you will figure it out. By choosing the right costume you avoid making fun of mental health issues and you’re showing respect and empathy to everyone whose life is affected by mental health illness. Thank you for that, I wish you a wonderful Halloween!