The other day I was browsing through mental health blogs and reading posts when I saw something that made me stop in my tracks. It was this article. The article is about a woman’s fight to stop the sale of a rather offensive “mental patient” costume.
At first I didn’t know what to think. Thoughts came and went, I wondered who in the hell would buy a costume of a “mental patient”, a costume so offensive and cruel. What exactly is funny or cute about mental illness? Then it hit me, hard. People actually bought these costumes, this is many people’s view of mentally ill people.
As someone with prodromal schizophrenia, I am acutely aware of the enormous stigma that surrounds mental illness, especially more severe illnesses. Still, the fact that someone would make such an offensive costume, and that people would buy it, shocked me.
After the initial surprise, I began to think back over the course of my own illness. I thought of the hours I spent in a trance, unable to move or think. I thought of the voices, screaming at me and frightening me. I thought of the first time I was able to talk to them, and how much it scared me. I thought of the struggle I went through in University, unable to add two numbers or read a book. I thought of the immense pain I went through during that time, the near constant thoughts of suicide, the painful wait for my medications to kick in. I thought of how close I was to being in a mental hospital. Or dead.
Is this what the costumes are making fun of? Is the suffering of millions amusing? Surely, if they knew the suffering that comes with mental illness, this costume would be history. But they don’t know, to them mental illness is either a joke or a headline, and so the costume stays.
I titled this post On Human Decency, and I did so for a reason. Human decency is something every marginalized group strives for, to be treated as equal, to be seen as human. Not to be mocked, not to be a joke, not to be feared, that is not human decency, that is cruelty. Within this very century, beatings, restraints, and other cruel methods were commonplace in mental hospitals. While we are past that now, we have a new form of cruelty to deal with, and that comes from stigma.
Stigma, the great divider which keeps those with mental illness separated from society. A glass wall, nay, a one-way mirror. For we see society, yet society does not see us, not as who we truly are. No, society does not see us, society sees a costume.
Stigma can be defeated, but doing so will require a movement beyond the scope of what has been done before. But for now, we must stick with small steps. Getting the stores currently carrying this outrageous costume to drop it is one of them.
I encourage you all to do what you can, call, leave reviews, email, even snail mail, do anything you can to get these horrendous costumes off shelves. All the info you need to help this cause can be found here. If you’re a blogger, feel free to reblog this post or write your own. Make sure to tell your friends. Stopping the sale of this costume won’t end stigma, but it’s one small step towards an unimaginable goal.