The costumes, gore and frights of Halloween are beloved by many, but the autumnal holiday can also come with challenges and discrimination against individuals with mental illness.
Mental Health is Not a Costume
Mental illness-related costumes and decorations have long been part of the holiday, from straightjacket costumes to the “mental asylum patient” at haunted houses. “Mental patient” costumes come with descriptions like “There’s nothing creepier than a mental hospital. Well, except for maybe encountering one of the psychotic mental patients!” and “Even when overmedicated, this mental patient is tons of fun.” Imagine how these descriptions and costumes could make someone experiencing mental illness or receiving mental health care feel and what message it is sending.
These tropes are detrimental to the understanding and perception of individuals with mental illness, enforcing the idea that people with mental illness are “scary.” Mental illness is not a horror movie, haunted house or costume to mock the real-life experiences millions of people face each year.
Mental Health and Halloween
Scary or gory decorations, movies and attractions can be appealing in the “spirit of Halloween,” but they can also make people feel bad and increase feelings of anxiety and fear, especially for children and those with existing mental illness. Consider how someone might feel in these environments, and how you can help them manage those feelings.
Validating a child’s feelings of fear or anxiety and reducing environmental stressors can help make it a positive experience. Practicing how to handle a scary situation ahead of time can also help children feel prepared and reduce anxiety or fear. Giving children the support and validation to process new, scary or anxiety-causing situations – during Halloween and all year – can help them build positive mental health habits.
Mental illness can be scary for those who experience it. But we should not be afraid of those with mental illnesses and must stop perpetuating that stereotype. When selecting your costume, decorations and activities this Halloween, please consider how they impact the perception and understanding of mental health and what message you are sending. Mental illness is not a Halloween costume.