This time of year is known for beautiful fall foliage, apple picking, and Halloween. Many people spend time stocking up on candy, decorations, and maybe even planning a party or scary costume. Take a moment to think about types of popular frightening costumes. What do they have in common?
Some popular Halloween costumes tend to mock types of personalities we are uncomfortable with, including people with mental illness. In fact, even some horror movies take place in psychiatric hospitals or star characters suffering from mental illness. Since it is common for us to fear the unknown and misunderstood, we often attempt to alleviate anxiety by dramatizing or mimicking what we fear. But are these diseases really something to be afraid of?
Halloween costumes that mock mental illness can easily contribute to already existing stigma–a major barrier to treatment. Stigma surrounding mental health disorders is so strong that nearly two-thirds of people affected by them live in silence and go without treatment.
All mental health disorders can seem strange and frightening. Without education and understanding, conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and bipolar disorder can feel scary. The reality is, millions of Americans struggle with these common illnesses. The good news is, they are treatable.
While October is a time for trick-or-treats, it is also Depression Awareness Month. Contribute to mental health awareness instead of stigma by choosing a costume wisely. Mental illness should viewed like any other illness and treated with dignity, not as a joke.