“What are you supposed to be? Pocahontas?” my friend asks over the buffet of festive treats at our annual Halloween party.
Over the din of the chatter, I reply back, “No, Mrs. Peacock. You know? From Clue? The board game?”
Admittedly, I was wearing a dark teal dress, black blazer, feather earrings, a boa made of gold rope, and feathers in my hair…so Pocahontas wasn’t too far of a leap; especially since I am proud of my Cherokee heritage (even though Pocahontas wasn’t Cherokee). But none of that is actually relevant to this post.
It was not until I started thinking of this year’s Halloween costume that I realized just how offensive our most “common” or “popular” costumes are. Women typically wear one of, or some version of, the following: sexy bumblebee, strip-tease Minnie Mouse, seductive dentist, sultry princess, and slutty baseball player…the list of body-exposing costumes is endless. Meanwhile, on the male front, men typically wear some sort of funny ensemble. Despite the provocative nature of the women’s costume and my jealously at men for being able to wear whatever they want, those costumes do not bother me as much as a few others I came across in my search for this years costume.
The classic “mental patient” costume. Renditions of this costume include: straight jackets covered in blood (and for women these straight jackets are low-cut to reveal breasts and short in length to show legs), orange prison-like jumpsuits, hospital gowns that declare the individual as “property” of such and such insane asylum/mental ward, axe murders, sweatshirts that warn others to “approach with caution”, handcuffs/restraints, and Hannibal Lecter-type masks…to name a few. My only response to these so called costumes is “What the hell?”
These costumes only serve to perpetuate the myth that those with mental illness are frightening—people we should fear on a daily basis. Furthermore, they maintain the stigmatization attached to a mental health diagnosis. By donning the costume of a mental patient, we are reinforcing the societal view that those with mental illness are lower-class citizens and are somehow less than everyone else (so much so that they have become comedic fodder for Halloween). By dressing up as an individual who suffers from mental illness, one is perpetuating the myth that those with mental illness are a danger to themselves and others, that those with mental illness should be “locked away like a prisoner”, and reinforces the negative belief that those with mental illness are someone to fear.
These horrific costumes reinforce the already existing negative connotations associated with mental illness, and are a direct result of a lack of understanding and knowledge of mental illness…not to mention a lack of respect for those diagnosed. Why is it socially acceptable, if not encouraged, to “dress up” as a person suffering with a mental illness? Why is mocking mental illness a costume? A quick Google search will reveal that there are no cancer patient costumes or AIDS patient costumes or Cystic Fibrosis patient costumes or dialysis patient costumes…etcetera. However, a quick search of mental patient costumes yields almost 7 million results; many of which are relevant results.
Is it any wonder that two-thirds of adults with mental illness do not seek treatment (NAMI statistic)? Who would want to seek treatment for mental illness if they believe they will be mocked openly and freely each time Halloween comes around? This Halloween, I ask you to really consider the motives behind the costumes chosen for you, your children, your pet, or a loved one…do they mock a certain demographic of people, do they perpetuate myths pertaining to a particular group of individuals, do they bring shame/stigma on this group, etc? If any of those answers are yes, pick a new costume. Oh, and mental illness is NEVER a costume
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.