We Need To Set Fire To The Halloween Asylum

This will no doubt stir up a bit of trouble and probably paint me as an absolute fun sponge but I can’t ignore the subject as it’s just pecking at me constantly and I need to get my feelings on the matter off my chest. You have been warned. It’s becoming a bit of an infuriating tradition that in the lead up to Halloween we tend to get a range of stigma-inducing mental health related products and events to celebrate the ancient holiday. But this isn’t just about hurting a person’s feelings or offending someone, It enforces and fuels negative attitudes and perceptions towards mental health and that is dangerous, problematic and most of all unacceptable in 2016.

In recent years we have seen ASDA selling a ‘Mental Patient’ Halloween outfit and rival supermarket Tesco retailing a ‘Phyco Ward’ outfit. This year we have seen Morrison’s selling a ‘Creepy Door Curtain’ themed around an Asylum. All of which have been pulled off the shelves after being challenged. Across the pond, in the US of A, we have seen the closure of a popular Halloween attraction called ‘Screaming Katie’ which according to a report from The Independent depicts a ‘possessed patient’ running around an ‘insane asylum’.

A little closer to home, I have been seeing more ‘horror’ events popping up based in Ex-Asylums in Liverpool and beyond. This is the thing that really got me feeling uneasy, the reason for that is simply that Asylums are barely history in the UK and still operational is some countries across the world. In addition, we have a range of mental health units and hospitals across the country that treat and rehabilitate many individuals who need more intense care for a variety of reasons. These big old Victorian buildings are shrouded in historical controversy and paint a sizable part of the history of Mental Health Stigma in this country.

In horror and Halloween culture mental health has been an attractive theme for an array of films such as ‘Crazy Eights’ (2008), attractions like Thorpe Park’s ‘The Asylum Maze’ (2013) and Games likes ‘The Evil Within’ (2014) throughout history up to the present day. These have been a part of my life too, I have watched Crazy Eights and played The Evil Within. It is however extremely difficult to defend or find a reason for the use of Mental Health themes given the broad range of horror subject matter available.

Mental Health Is NOT a scary subject. It can be scary for those who suffer and that is 1 in 4 of us today plus 1 in 10 children. Which is why we need to be strict and stamp out stigma fueling language, actions and themes so people don’t need to fear to talk about their mental health, seeking help or even go to the hospital for treatment. The truth is:

  • The majority of violent crimes and homicides are committed by people who do not have mental health problems.
  • People with mental health problems are more dangerous to themselves than they are to others: 90 percent of people who die through suicide in the UK are experiencing mental distress.
  • In 2009, the total population in England and Wales aged 16 or over was just over 43 million.
  • It is estimated that about one in six of the adult population will have a significant mental health problem at any one time, (more than 7 million people). Given this number and the 50–70 cases of homicide a year involving people known to have a mental health problem at the time of the murder, clearly, the statistics data do not support the sensationalised media coverage about the danger that people with mental health problems present to the community.
  • Substance abuse appears to play a role: The prevalence of violence is higher among people who have symptoms of substance abuse (discharged psychiatric patients and non-patients).Stats Via Time To Change

The chances are at least one person in your family, friendship circle or of the many people you come into touch with on a daily basis will have, will have or are suffering from ill mental health it could be Anxiety, Schizophrenia, Depression, Borderline Personality Disorder or one of the many other conditions that people live perfectly ordinary and successful lives with on a daily basis. So I simply ask you this October, in the run-up to Halloween; be mindful of your choice of language, costume, decoration or entertainment.

Have fun, be safe and have a great Halloween.

© 2017 James Woods