We were all able to collectively exhale when the “Anna Rexia” costume was pulled from shelves several years ago, but it looks like this Halloween, we’re not finished yet with the offensive and inappropriate costumes that continue to perpetuate stigma.

Now costumes like “Gone Mental,” “Cell Block Psycho,” and “Psycho Ward” are being sold, using disheveled, blood-stained clothing, shackles and dark eye circles, to inaccurately depict someone with a mental health condition. What a shameful step back for mental health treatment.

Halloween_Pumpkin_Medum.jpgWould it be acceptable to dress up as a cancer patient? A diabetic? An amputee? This is no different. Except that mental illness is much more common, with one in four adults and one in five children affected by mental illness annually, but clearly, more misunderstood.  

At Sheppard Pratt, we helped more than 70,000 individuals struggling with mental health this past year, and a big part of the recovery process is reintegration into the community, and managing the stigma and marginalization that may come from those very community members. To have such a blatant display of ignorance through a Halloween costume is crushing to both those suffering from a mental disorder and those who are helping them to recover.

The good news is that we are not the only ones who are incredulous at seeing these costumes on store shelves. Comments to these costumes include headings like “shameful exploitation of people with mental illness,” “painfully stigmatizing,” and “a big step backward in how mental illnesses are perceived and treated,” which gives us some hope that we can work together to end this type of prejudice and mistreatment. 

And one more thing to add: these costumes are being sold on Amazon, the very same company that just won several Emmys for its original series, “Transparent,” which focuses on another marginalized and stigmatized group of people, the transgender community. How can Amazon talk about the importance of ending the stigmatization of the trans community (which we completely support), but then alienate and hurt another stigmatized community? It gets you thinking, doesn’t it?

Let’s join Mental Health America and others by signing this petition to tell retailers that these Halloween costumes are offensive and stigmatizing. Let’s get them OFF THE SHELVES! 

Jessica Kapustin is the director of marketing and public relations at Sheppard Pratt Health System. Madeline Caldwell is the public relations manager at Sheppard Pratt Health System.



Posted by Tracy Greenberg on

Thanks for posting. The descriptions of some of these costumes is awful. And they were selling a child's version as well. Makes me so sad.

Posted by Gayle Ayres on

Thank you for sharing this. We continue to push forward in hopes of removing this costume from superstore shelves.
So Very Grateful,
Gayle Ayres

Posted by Violet on

Halloween costumes from Hell? This article is in and of itself offensive. Whoever your SPHS Marketing team is, had better get it together. Why not stay out of trying to capitalize on 'The Year that Offended Everyone' by slinging mental health services via condemning Halloween? Really? Instead of just pulling these things off the shelves why not pull the Jason, Freddie, ghoul, ghost, vampire and werewolf masks, too, to accommodate anyone who has ever been a victim of anything scary? Why not pull the witch costumes to accommodate those raised in cults, alternative lifestyles, etc? Why not condemn the people who playfully cross-dress on Halloween to accommodate the LGBT community? Why not pull the military costumes because some people are afraid of uniforms? Why not pull anything deemed provocative or sultry to accommodate people who are offended by the provocative and sultry or those who were sexually victimized? Condemn priest costumes to accommodate those that were victims of molestation in the Catholic Church.
You see, everything is offensive and can be. Everything is a trigger and can be. Halloween is a playful day and nothing more and has no correlation, affiliation and should make no accommodation to mental health services, treatment, or those who are afflicted with an illness. Period. This article is a poorly disguised advertisement, and it is in poor taste.
Whoever your SPHS Marketing team is, one thing is glaringly clear... they know nothing about mental health and everything about marketing.
This is horrifyingly basic for an institution with Sheppard's reputation.

Posted by Tracy Greenberg on

Mental Illness is an illness - no different than a physical Illness - thus different from any of the other things you are referencing. It is not a matter of being offensive. It is a matter of stigmatizing people with an illness - people who need to get help and who will be afraid to get help if we continue to stigmatize mental illness with stereotypes of violence and craziness.

Posted by Blog Administrator on

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