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This Halloween, Stigma Shouldn’t Be in Fashion



Stigma is a barrier to care for people with mental illness; more than one in four people cite stigma as a reason that they do not seek care. Being mindful about the way that we portray mental illness is important to help reduce stigma. The words that we use to speak and write about mental illnesses are important, but that mindfulness also includes other expressions that we use to depict people with mental illnesses. One depiction that the mental health community has called into question is the use of mental illness as a horror theme during Halloween.

Costumes with names like “Boys Gone Mental Patient” and “Psychopath” are sold by retailers across the nation. Their packages feature people in various degrees of restraint (straightjackets and anti-bite masks), bloodied, disheveled, or carrying weapons. These images reaffirm misinformed fears and instill the idea that people with mental illness are dangerous. In fact, most violent acts are committed by people who do not have a mental illness and most people with a mental illness are not violent. The costumes are far off from the true human experience of mental illness and can stigmatize those who live with mental health issues.

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Let’s Talk About the Way We Talk About Mental Illness

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Mental health advocates have called for businesses to stop selling the message that people with mental illness should be feared. In 2006, NAMI called to stop the use of haunted “psych wards” and “insane asylums” as Halloween attractions. In 2014, stores in the UK stopped selling mental health patient costumes after a public official spoke out about the costumes’ damaging effects. This year, Mental Health America is calling for U.S. retailers to discontinue selling the costumes, and wrote a petition to gain support. Thousands of people have already signed on.

Halloween is only one day out of the year, and many consider it a time for lighthearted fun. Celebrating the holiday does not have to be contradictory to representing people with mental illnesses accurately. When we as a society paint mental illness as a menacing or shameful thing, people are less open to getting treatment. This Halloween, and throughout the year, let’s think about the images we’re portraying and how our actions help or hurt the fight against stigma. Stigma’s never in fashion.


AnxietyADHDBipolar DisordersDepressionAutismPatients and FamiliesHoarding DisorderAlzheimer’sOCDEating DisordersSchizophreniaAddictionPTSD


Comments (2) Add a Comment

  • Gayle Ayres

    Thank you so much for your support and encouragement. We greatly appreciate this blog post!

  • Gayle Ayres

    Thank you so very much for your support! This is such an encouraging and informative post.


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