Halloween Can be a TriggerHalloween has become problematic for many minority groups, perhaps none more than those with a mental health issue. Take Halloween costumes. While African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and others may consider costumes based on characters or types from their background as cultural appropriation or racism, costumes that mimic stereotypes of mental illness are not only insensitive but can cause real harm. While in some ways mental health problems face less stigma than in decades past—along with the substance use disorder or dual addiction—mental illness remains little discussed in a constructive way, and such costumes don’t help. (In the face of recent mass shootings, some have tried to shift the discussion from the availability of guns to preventing people with mental illnesses from getting guns.) One popular Halloween costume is the serial killer Hannibal Lecter, particularly wearing a straitjacket and face mask (from the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs) to prevent him from harming anyone with his teeth (as the fictional character has been known to do). In 2013, two United Kingdom retailers, Asda and Tesco, each stopped selling a “mental patient” Halloween costume—a blood-spattered strait-jacket or an orange jumpsuit with Hannibal Lecter face mask and other accoutrements—and apologized for the faux pas by donating money to Mind, a mental health charity. Amazon UK also seemed to have quietly pulled the costume. In 2019, those UK retailers are still not offering the costumes, at least online, but in the US, it is much different:
- Amazon has at least a dozen “mental patient” costumes—more if you count other types of clearly homicidally insane characters.
- Party City has three basic costumes, “psycho” clown, psycho Joker (resembling the Jared Leto version from Suicide Squad) and Harley Quinn, the girlfriend/sidekick of the Joker.
- There are also multiple killers, serial or otherwise, that despite the lack of hospital gowns are clearly intended to be mentally ill.
- Wearing ordinary clothes
- Subtly acting the mental health issue (the article suggests several sets of symptoms)
- Staying home and not going to a Halloween party.
- Some mental health issues prevent the amygdala or emotion-storing region of the brain from functioning properly, causing a panic attack.
- Like substance use disorder, mental illness does not mean the person is weak or immoral. People with some mental illnesses experience stress differently.
- Individuals with mental health issues may be reluctant to even mention how these “normal” experiences affect them for fear of seeming a bad sport, a killjoy, or too fragile to participate in group activities.
- Such houses equate mental illness with evil, stigmatizing people living with AMI.
- Such houses make light of the real historical abuses at mental health institutions, such as exposed by Nellie Bly in 1887.
- apnews.com – Experts: Mental illness not main driver of mass shootings.
- https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-24278768 – Asda and Tesco withdraw Halloween patient outfits.
- https://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2015/oct/21/mental-patient-halloween-costumes-a-scientific-guide-to-dressing-accurately – Mental patient’ Halloween costumes: a scientific guide to dressing accurately.
- mentalhealth.gov – Mental Health Myths and Facts.
- nimh.nih.gov – Mental Health.
- bustle.com – Celebrating Halloween When You Have A Mental Illness Can Be Triggering, & This Is How To Cope.
- psychologytoday.com – The Neurobiology of Fear-Based Learning—and Unlearning.
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