There is a movement in the mental health community to remove “mental patient” Halloween costumes from the inventory of stores. I first found out about these costumes, and then the movement, from a woman I know, Gayle, who is an incredible advocate for the mentally ill.
There is a similar situation for people of color called blackface. People have lost their jobs for dressing in blackface and most recently (this week)there were protests on the UCLA campus because students dressed in the costumes.
I thought that most of us could agree that blackface is racist and inappropriate, but apparently on some campuses it is coming back which I discovered while I was researching for this article.
I am deeply troubled by the fact that blackface is reemerging in America. I was going to point to the rare occurrence of it, and the public shaming that often ensues when someone does put it on, as a success for people of color. I was going to use that success as an example of how those of us in the mental health community need to respond to companies selling “psycho” and other costumes meant to depict the mentally ill. I was going to suggest that we rally together with our supporters and show our outrage, but instead, I find myself typing: People of color are not costumes. People with a mental illness are not costumes either.
I didn’t think it was racist as a child to dress up like a Native American. I came from Washington State where there were many tribes, museums, landmarks, etc. devoted to the Native American culture. I loved that history and culture, but it wasn’t mine, and making a Halloween costume out of traditional dress is offensive to those who do belong to that culture. I would never dream of dressing up in the stereotypical leather and feathers today – I would be ashamed to do so.
Why, if a small town girl like me can understand this can’t other people?
Halloween is supposed to be filled with tricks and treats, parties, and ghouls. No one should be made to feel discriminated against because of their culture, heritage, color of their skin, or a brain disease.
Please sign this petition to have companies stop selling costumes that degrade and make fun of illnesses that are literally killing thousands of people each year (suicide from depression is on the rise). It’s not funny. It never was funny, but our ignorance got in the way of our humanity. Let’s put humanity first, and toss our ignorance. The petition is only for costumes depicting the mentally ill, but I ask you, please be aware that costumes can be harmful and I wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on the fun of Halloween.
Toddler in costume photo available from Shutterstock