Illness is not a costume
Did I need to say that? You’d think it would be pretty obvious that to dress up as a person with a serious illness many have to battle is pretty insensitive, outside the realm of what most would consider acceptable, no?
Apparently it’s not so obvious.
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’ 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, harassment, assault, and murder.
Associating mental illness to violence is already helping shape the way that stigma towards people with mental illnesses manifests in our society. Turning it into a joke ‘mental patient’ costume is to 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 regularly 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 mentally ill people!”
The possibility of a register of people with mental illnesses in order to prevent future mass shootings has been thrown about on more than one occasion. At the same time you’ll find it used it as an opportunity to encourage people to get guns in case they come across a violent crazy person.
The association of seemingly random violence 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 just an average human being capable of harming people, but how many of those committing this violence 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 ongoing psychotherapy for mental illness to prevent it from happening, if it’s such a great problem? Where’s the extra funding towards it?
While the US example has far more obvious 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.