When I logged into Facebook today, I felt my heart drop at the sight of a post a friend of mine had made, it was a photo she had taken when she had gone shopping for a Halloween costume.
Three costumes, titled "Insane Asylum", "Skitzo" and "Psycho Ward". A straight jacket, an orange jumpsuit with a mask over the model's mouth, and another orange jumpsuit, with the words "Psycho Ward: Committed" on the back. It was hard to see that my friend had been affected by this so negatively, and the people commenting on the photo as well. It was hard for me to see these costumes, because I myself was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 16 years old, and had to face a lot of ridicule and stigma from my peers as I tried to make it through high school.
The hardest part about seeing a photo like that, of costumes sold in stores in my own town, was coming to terms with the fact that these costumes will be worn is year on Halloween by people who shop in the stores that choose to sell them. The history of treatment of people with mental illness is incredibly dark. In Nazi Germany, 300,000 mentally ill people were sterilized against their will, and 100,000 were killed in Germany alone. In North American "insane asylums" patients underwent lobotomies, shock therapy and sterilization until the 1960s. They were mistreated, they were abused, simply because of their mental health struggles.
I am completely baffled by the idea of a company even considering selling costumes that make a joke of the suffering these patients endured. Aside from the fact that it is incredibly offensive to make light of these historical tragedies, it doesn't stop there. 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Stigma hurts people who live with a mental health condition, it hurts their families and their friends as well. When stores put costumes like the "Insane Asylum" straight jacket on their shelves, they invite their customers to keep harmful misconceptions about people with mental health conditions alive.
Halloween is supposed to be fun, but wearing these costumes means having fun at someone else's expense. When stores choose to sell these costumes they are making a profit off of the struggles that many people who live with mental illness face, they make a profit off of the youth who get harassed or bullied, the youth that self-stigmatize, and let's not forget the youth who feel so isolated that they tragically take their own lives We don't need to demonize mental illness to enjoy Halloween.
Everybody deserves to feel safe and respected. If you're planning to wear a costume like the ones I mentioned, I urge you to consider the negative impact it may have, it may not be intended to hurt anyone, but the unfortunate truth is that costumes like these cause more harm than meets the eye.
Drella, 19 years old, Co-facilitator Teens2Twenties Support Group for Youth Mental Health