Last weekend, I got to go to one of my favorite places, Universal Studios, with one of my favorite people, my dear friend Thomas. We had a great time, we rode all of our favorite rides, ate turkey legs, and drank butterbeer. Well, it was great except for one part.
For those of you who don’t know, it’s Halloween season down here in Orlando, and Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights is in full swing. Halloween Horror Nights is essentially a nightly event where the entire park is shut down, and zombies, serial killers, and other frightening characters take the street. Not for the faint of hearted.
We were at the park before Horror Nights started, as I’m not much for scary stuff, and we’d just gotten off our favorite rollercoaster, The Mummy (I can recite all the lines to the ride, but I digress). After we got off we started walking towards Diagon Alley when I saw a bus “crashed” on the side of the street.
Of course, it was a decoration for Halloween Horror Nights, but being the intrinsically curious person that I am I went ahead and read the side of the bus. It read “Shadyrooms Sanitorium”. And that’s the moment that my day took a turn for the south.
I knew I shouldn’t have let it get to me, but it did, and the rest of the day I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t believe that Universal, a company that I had come to adore over the years, would allow a prop (and I assume accompanying strait-jacket costumes) that is so offensive and stigmatizing to so many people.
Last month I wrote this article about how offensive and stigmatizing mental patient costumes really are. Let me be abundantly clear, that article wasn’t just about stopping those costumes because they were offensive, and this article isn’t just about a bus being offensive, it’s more than that. This is about saving lives, and this is about improving the lives of those living with mental illness.
Strait-jacket costumes and buses to mental hospitals being used as Halloween props perpetuates the idea that those with mental illness are violent, “crazy” individuals. That is stigma. The worse stigma gets, the less people who need help want to get it. Think, if you knew you would be viewed as violent and untrustworthy for having a mental illness, would you seek help?
And then there’s the people who have already been diagnosed, but must live in shame and fear because of the label cast on them by society. Afraid to reveal their diagnosis or venture outside the realm of “normalcy”, they are relegated to hiding their illness, and any signs of it, or else be viewed as a violent monster.
The less people get help, the more people end up in crisis, the more people die from their illness. All because we want to use mental illness as part of our horror shows. So don’t let it happen, don’t let stigma be perpetuated in a world where it is already bad enough to begin with. We should be up in arms over stuff like this, things that are so wrong and offensive and stigmatizing. We shouldn’t let the people running the show get away from this. We should get mad.
UPDATE: Mental Health America has started a petition to stop the sale of the children’s “Gone Mental” costume. I encourage you all to sign it here.