Whether you love a good scare or you’re just in it for the candy, there’s something for everybody on Halloween. Young children look forward to costumes and trick-or-treat while older kids seek out the scariest haunted houses. No other holiday brings neighborhoods and communities together in quite the same way.
Despite all the hoopla, however, Halloween is not for everyone. That’s often because the mental health stigma makes some people feel particularly misunderstood and isolated. We’ve made progress in moving away from offensive portrayals during the Halloween season, but mental illness is still poorly represented in costumes, decorations, movies and attractions. When you’re caught up in the holiday spirit, it’s easy to miss the prejudice behind many of these products.
Here’s some guidance on how you can help fight the stigma:
- Ditch the insensitive costumes. Although there are plenty of great Halloween costumes to choose from, many lack empathy for individuals who struggle with mental illness. Dressing up as a “psycho” makes light of a very serious disorder, and donning a straight jacket perpetuates an outdated stereotype. Likewise, portraying any type of addiction is unkind towards those struggling with drugs, alcohol or other substances.
- Decorate responsibly. Keep your decorations light and fun. It doesn’t matter that people know your portrayals are fake. If you choose to depict suicide or murder, for example, that can be a trigger for individuals who have considered ending their own life or for people who have lost a loved one in the same manner. Simply put, be mindful of what others may be going through.
- Choose movies and attractions carefully. It can be demeaning and harmful to overemphasize negative elements of mental illness, such as violence and bizarre behavior. Haunted houses that incorporate asylum themes or antiquated representations of “psychos” or “lunatics” also fuel an inaccurate stereotype. Put your money and support behind movies and attractions that don’t exploit mental illness.
- Talk openly about mental health. It will take more time and education to remove the mental health stigma associated with Halloween. And it’s not all up to you. But simply taking steps to talk about mental health in a factual and compassionate way can make a difference in your community. Set a positive example by correcting misconceptions and educating future generations.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year, so it’s highly likely you have family, friends and neighbors who fall into that category. Think about how they might perceive your words and actions. You can still have fun without embarrassing or insulting others.
Dr. David Lowenstein is a Columbus, Ohio-based psychologist with more than 35 years of experience. He conducts individual, family, and group therapy sessions in his German Village office and also via telehealth. Dr. Lowenstein is also available for expert forensic testimony, and for educational workshops and presentations. He is frequently called upon as an expert source for print, radio, and broadcast media. Contact Dr. Lowenstein at Lowenstein & Associates, 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.