Please, don’t make our health your costume this Halloween

Illness is not a costume

Did I need to say that? You’d think it would be pretty obvious that to dress up as an illness many have to battle is pretty insensitive, outside the realm of what most would consider acceptable, no?

Apparently it’s not so obvious, as evidenced by a Greene King pub in Bournemouth who are soon to be hosting a Halloween theme night where people are encouraged to dress up as ‘deranged doctors, nurses, mental patients’. Edit: Greene King have stated apologise, saying it’s an unsanctioned initiative by the pub. They have cancelled the event on behalf of the venue and are sending staff on diversity training.


Thanks to stigma, something which is furthered by what some are considered to be light hearted novelty costumes  people with mental health problems are often portrayed as dangerous, scary, unpredictable, violent, prone to lashing out and even murderous. In previous years we’ve seen a vast array of them which are centred around the stereotypical ‘mental patient’, from ‘escaped mental patient’ to ‘psycho killer’.
The reality is that people with mental health problems are far, far more likely to be the victims of violent crime than they are to commit it. They are more prone to abuse, isolation, murder.

Associating mental illness to negative things is already helping shape the way that stigma towards people with mental illnesses manifests in our societies. Turning it into a joke ‘mental patient’ costume is to make real, bring to form the very real stigmas that we face and that make life harder for us.

A great example of how this view of violence permeates a culture is in the United States gun regulation debate. Every time there is a mass shooting, which sadly is many in the past few years, what’s the first thing people ask?

“What’s wrong with them? They’re obviously mental”

The NRA describe the issue as being one of sickness as do many others in the pro-gun side of things. The general line is “crazy people shouldn’t be allowed guns, stop crazy people”.
A few years ago someone in the NRA, I believe, went so far as to suggest a national register of those with mental illnesses in order to prevent future mass shootings. Oh, and of course they also used it as an opportunity to encourage people to get guns in case they come across a violent crazy person.

The association of mass shootings and mental health problems gets into a lot of people’s heads. When you’re hearing it from news stations around the world, in papers, on social media, it’s a hard association to break. It’s easier to accept that someone’s ‘out of their mind’ than capable of shooting a lot of people, but how many of those shooters have actually been found to be mentally ill? How many were motivated by something to do with a mental illness? Where are all the drives to encourage psychotherapy and prevent it from happening? Where’s the extra funding towards it?

While the US example has far more impact and has a far more sombre message, things like these costumes, novelty as they are, assist in compounding that oft heard message of ‘mental people hurt people’, every time it comes up in a TV show, in a book, it pushes it that little bit more. The stereotype is dragged out so much that a lot of people don’t even question it. A UK survey a while ago found that a third of people thought those with mental illnesses are more likely to be violent.. The more this message is broadcast and the more people who choose to listen to it, the more stigma people with mental illnesses have to deal with. The more people are scared of us, see us as crazy, see us as dangerous.

There are a lot of outfits and themes out there which don’t bring more misunderstanding and pain into the world, that don’t harm people who are already having to deal with some very heavy things. Please, use one of those. Don’t make our health your costume.

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