Halloween Is Not A Time To Stigmatize Mental Illness

“Come quick it’s an emergency,” our 7 year old grandson said. He has a three year old brother and immediately we wondered what happened. With two active little boys you don’t know what will happen when you look away for a moment.

“Come quick it is an emergency, follow me!” 

“What is the emergency!”  “Quick we have to save the world.”

With relief we followed and proceeded to save the world from “bad guys.” (You can relax we battled evil and won.)

For Halloween the boys will be wearing costumes of Ironman and Captain America. For a few moments they will get to put on “courage”, “boldness.” and a desire to “save the world.”

They will have fun dressing up for family members and I’m sure they will have a sugar high continuing into the following day, although their mother rations the candy. (As a grandfather there is no one to ration my candy intake!)

Halloween can be fun, trying on an alter-ego and deciding which candy to eat first.

But some costumes, most of which are adult costumes, can be offensive to those of us who suffer mental illness.

Costumes like “psycho schizophrenic murderer”, the Psycho nurse, “Gone Mental,” “Happy Hill Asylum,” and “Psycho Ward” only serve to perpetuate myths and fears of mental illness. Clowns have become frightening to young children. Some of us remember when clowns were safe and brought joy to children and adults alike.

One in five American adults will suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in any given year. One out of two will suffer from mental illness during their lifetime.

Many will put off seeking help until it becomes a crisis. It is a myth that mental illness patients are scary or dangerous.

Mental illness patients are you, me, family members, our sons and daughters. They need all the support that can be given before a disease spirals out of control. One primary reason for not seeking help is the stigma society has toward mental illness.

We do not need Halloween costumes that reinforce falsehoods about mental illness.

In my recent book Bright Spots In The Darkness: Meditations When You Are Depressed, marketing showed that the single most responsive group were young men, ages 15-25. I was surprised by the demographics. Depression is an epidemic among our young adults, both male and female.

With mental health illness there is hope. There is treatment. The people we love do not deserve to be crippled by society’s stigma of mental illness. Let’s not make it more difficult for them.

Halloween is a time to enjoy being a different persona. It is a time to enjoy pumpkin spice and candy. There are parties and friends. But please be careful the message your costume sends.

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