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.
Would 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?
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.