I’m the first one to say that society has become too sensitive. But something is bothering me, and it’s the fact that we are living in 2016 and we still find it acceptable to portray mental health as a gruesome, scary Halloween attraction. It’s wrong, it’s insensitive and it deepens the inaccurate stigma of mental illness. 

Psychiatric hospitals are NOT  Halloween attractions. Mental health patients attire are NOT Halloween costumes. October 10th was Mental Health Awareness Day. I watched some Facebook friends change their profile pictures. I read several informative posts and tweets. But this goes beyond a new profile picture, Facebook post or tweet. We must for the sake of humanity evolve into a more enlightened species.

We wouldn’t think of making a cancer treatment center a Halloween attraction, so why is it OK for theme parks and local farms to constantly have “haunted insane asylums” as one of their Halloween attractions? We wouldn’t think of dressing up like a cancer patient receiving chemotherapy for Halloween, so why is it OK to sell blood splattered straight jackets in 2016?

People with mental health conditions are people, not costumes or jokes. They are our mothers, our fathers, our sisters, our brothers and our children.

The cultural viewpoint that mental illness should be identified with spooky Halloween displays and costumes pops up every October. Pinterest has 1000+ “creative” ideas on insane asylums. Take a stroll in your local Halloween store and you will find the following in no particular order:  “confined convict,” “women’s insane asylum straight jacket” and drum roll please… the “sexy psycho costume.”

Read this carefully, I can assure you there is nothing sexy about a person in a severe psychotic state. It is devastating and terrifying for family members desperately trying to rescue a loved one that is now trapped inside their very ill brain. Close your eyes and think of someone you love now try to imagine your life without him or her. They are still very much alive, only now they are in such a severe psychotic state they believe you are plotting against them. This person who you once shared secrets with and trusted with your life, now believes that you are plotting to somehow hurt them. The more you try to reach them, the more paranoid they become until there is no more relationship. You want to help them but they refuse to accept they are ill, refuse treatment, and sometimes refuse contact with their family who loves them unconditionally. They are trapped inside their very warped brain. Mental illness is devastating not just for the patients, but for the families.

Mental illness is not sexy and it is not something we should be charging admission for a Halloween fright.

1 in 5 Americans live with a mental health condition. 1 in 25 Americans live with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. People with severe mental illnesses, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychosis, are 2 ½ times more likely to be attacked, raped or mugged than the general population. Untreated mental illness will not go away on its own. Untreated mental illness can cost a person his or her health, their home, their job, their friends, families and in some cases their life. Mental illness is not a lack of coping skills or a personal failure. Mental Illness is a serious, and potentially life-threatening, illness. Left untreated, mental illness can cloud your judgment so badly that you see no way out. Life with mental illness is difficult, and for some, it’s unbearable. More than 90% of suicides are directly linked to untreated mental illness.

My argument goes beyond being politically correct, my argument is if we continuously portray our mental health community in our Halloween fun we are preventing people from seeking help. We are preventing someone’s mother, father, brother, sister or child from getting help. And untreated mental health conditions are a leading factor in suicides. So why are we allowing our already stigmatized mental health to continuously be portrayed in gruesome, terrifying Halloween attractions? Why are we not promoting acceptance and actively challenging social stereotypes?

Just recently a local farm in New Jersey announced a brand new zombie attraction to their fabulous spooky Halloween display. In addition to a haunted hayride and other neat stuff I now can experience zombies. I like zombies so what’s the problem? The problem is these zombies broke out from a real life psychiatric hospital (that closed in 1998) down the road from the farm. A psychiatric hospital where men and women dedicated their careers to helping our mentally ill. A psychiatric hospital where thousands of men, women and some children battled mental illness, some even died there from their illness. 

For an insane price of $25.00 (excuse the pun) I can help exterminate psychotic zombies with paintball guns mounted to the sides of trucks because as their website says, zombies can’t shoot back! According to the website, this is fun for all ages! As if our mental health system isn’t stigmatized enough, this local farm wants the public to dehumanize our mentally ill and portray them as blood thirsty zombies ready to gauge your eyeballs out. They want you to think that mentally ill zombies have escaped and are chasing you in the woods, crawling on the ground desperately trying to attack anything that moves. 

Let’s limit our Halloween fun to monsters, ghosts and goblins and not ACTUAL PEOPLE who are sick and vulnerable.

America needs a more enlightened, empathetic public so if that 1 in 5 mentally ill American is someone you love they will seek help and not fear the dreaded stigma and labels that often accompanies this heartbreaking disease.

Lisa Ingrassia

Lisa is the Director of Events at Zenith Marketing Group, an insurance brokerage firm located in Freehold, NJ. She is passionate about sharing her father’s journey with cancer and bringing attention the difficult path a caregiver must walk. She has written guest articles for the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders, The Mighty & Her View From Home. She is also a guest blogger for The Huffington Post. Fun fact: She’s obsessed with her Boston terrier Diesel and loves the color blue.