Despite it being 2016 we still need to say that mental health disorders are not Halloween inspirations.
Year after year we see some form of mocking mental disability whether it be last year’s inappropriate costumes in supermarkets to this year’s park attractions depicting mental health as nothing more than a sick joke.
Over in America, there have been two largely publicized offensive displays using mental health for public mockery. Knott’s Berry Farm, a theme park in California, recently removed their new attraction ‘Fear VR’ after criticism from mental health advocates. The virtual reality horror show featured a young psychiatric patient with so-called ‘demonic powers’ Originally the attraction was going to be called FearVR 51050, the Californian code for involuntary Psychiatric sectioning. Parent company Cedar Fair closed the attraction and release the following statement;
“Over the past week, we have heard from a number of people expressing concern that one of our temporary Halloween attractions ‘Fear VR’ is hurtful to those who suffer from mental illnesses. Contrary to some traditional and social media accounts, the attraction’s story and presentation were never intended to portray mental illness.”
Halloween is synonymous with scary displays and the cultural viewpoint that mental illness can be portrayed as entertainment. Films and costumes perpetuate the myth that mental illness is something to fear and be disgusted by. This type of inaccuracy and negativity does more than just stigmatize those with mental health issues, it could have a ripple effect on future generations.
Another recent exhibit called ‘psycho-path Haunted Asylum’ by Six Flags New England branch was shut down. The park’s display showed a doctor showcasing his most ‘insane and twisted patients. Change.org petitioned for the attraction to be shut down noting-
“It explicitly supports dehumanizing portrayal and treatment of people given psychiatric diagnoses and those who seek support from psychiatric services.”
Six Flags have since removed the original attraction, revamping it, and renaming it The Forgotten Laboratory.
“Fright Fest has been delighting our guests with smiles and screams for over twenty years. Our intent is never to offend our guests. To mitigate any sensitive concerns, we opted to reintroduce our new haunt attraction under a different theme.”
Whilst it is worth noting these parks have listened and amended their attractions, it is also important to look into how they opened in the first place. Some experts say that it is a sign that those with mental health issues are continuously stigmatized in society.
What can society do to move forward?
Beyond being politically correct or avoiding hurt feelings there is strong evidence that false stereotypes can be severely damaging. Research surrounding misconceptions shows that it can, and does, prevent people from seeking help and support when they need it most. Medical support abates symptoms of psychological disorders, such as headaches, negative thoughts, hallucinations and sleep loss. Left untreated mental health conditions are a major factor in suicides.
Instead of berating these companies, these incidents should serve as lessons.
“Given that Cedar Fair has closed its exhibit as a result of our advocacy … I wouldn’t call it a debacle. For me, the takeaway is that advocacy works. We stood up for what was right and we were heard.”
However, we must not blame the entertainment sector for its misconceptions. Society still has a lot to learn. The best way has always remained the same increase awareness and education. Individually we can learn from reading about others’ experiences and becoming familiar with the simple fact that psychological disorders are common: nearly one in five will experience it in their lives. Most with mental health issues lead full lives.
“Fear comes from ignorance. We need a more enlightened general public.” -Rogers.