The season of ghosts, ghouls, and all things spooky is upon us. But one of the scariest trends we see each Halloween is people dressing up as caricatures of mental illness.
We were all able to collectively exhale when the skeleton costume crassly named “Anna Rexia” was pulled from shelves in 2015. Unfortunately, as Halloween 2023 approaches, we are still seeing retailers selling offensive and inappropriate costumes that perpetuate harmful stigmas.
See: costumes like “Gone Mental,” “Cell Block Psycho,” and “Sanitarium Maniac.” These costumes use disheveled, blood-stained clothing, shackles, and dark eye circles to inaccurately depict people with mental illnesses. During a time when more people than ever are opening up about their mental health, it’s hard to believe that these shameful representations of mental illness are still hitting the racks. While changes to culture and policy have brought us one step forward toward equity of care and respect for those struggling with their mental health, costumes like these take us two steps back. And what’s more, they discourage people who are suffering from seeking the help they need.
Imagine how it might feel to see someone dressed up as a cancer patient, a diabetic, or an amputee. Poking fun at mental health conditions is no less harmful.
At Sheppard Pratt, we know that being part of the community is an integral pillar of the overall recovery process. Seeing friends and neighbors wearing mocking costumes is certainly no way to welcome those on the path to healing back into their communities.
Amid a severe and worsening national mental health crisis, it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t know and love someone who’s struggled with mental illness. Mental illness often makes us isolate ourselves, at a time when we most need the reassurance and support of those closest to us. Seeing mental illness made mockery on a public holiday is the very opposite of that reassurance. A “Sanitarium Maniac” costume is not a funny joke—it’s a harmful trope that works to further stigmatize the incredibly brave act of seeking mental health treatment.
Halloween costumes that exploit people with mental illnesses are not just tacky, they are cruel. You can fight these outdated stereotypes by speaking out against insensitive depictions of serious health conditions. This fall, let’s remember the true essence of Halloween: goodies, and good intentions.