Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Asylum-Themed Halloween Attractions Need to Stop

There are a lot of things I like about Halloween. Orange is my favorite color. Any opportunity to dress up is a huge bonus. I don't love overly scary movies but I do love ghost-related things (assuming the "related" part doesn't involve actually interacting with a ghost up close). But one thing that I absolutely hate about Halloween, and I mean hate, is the "asylum" themed attractions. There are so many reasons. I could rant on and on about this. I'll try not to, but I might, a little.

First off, the fact that people with mental health conditions were until the last few decades more or less deemed hopeless cases and shut up to be forgotten about for the rest of their lives, is an atrocious tragedy. It's not a "fun attraction". Had you had to endure what these people had to, I'm quite sure you wouldn't think it was some sort of creepy-fun ride.

Secondly, and probably more glaringly, what these "attractions" portray is utterly BS, and they spread stigma.  Let me tell you what a hospital for mental health is like. Let me tell you, because I've been there. First off, while pretty much all of the health care system could improve, including that of mental health care, a facility for mental health looks a hell of a lot better than a regular hospital room. Yes, I had to share a room (for me with social anxiety this was pretty awful). But I had a real bed. Not a metal hospital bed, a real one like people would have in their homes. And a perfectly nice, friendly roommate. We had our own bathroom - every room did. There was a common room where we could watch tv, read, talk if we felt like communicating with others, which again, because of social anxiety, I didn't do a ton of. There were several individual therapy rooms and a group therapy room. Yes, they did take my belt, and then tell me I needed shorts that fit better (my witty response of "they fit fine 'til you took my belt" didn't go very far). Yes, I had to eat with a plastic spork. But if not being allowed a belt or metal utensils are terrifying to you, I hope you never have to go through security at the airport, because they don't allow these either.

And the people. Let me tell you about the people. I remember a very nice young man, probably mid to late 20s, who had been under so much stress at his job that he suffered what sounded like an anxiety attack. He'd come there to try to work through it and A friendly, interesting, adoring mother probably in her 30s, whose doctor hadn't filled her medication in time so she admitted herself to get the care she needed.  There was an incredibly gentle woman, probably in her 50s, suffering from severe grief at the loss of a parent. There was a quiet young musician who battled depression and admitted himself because he could see he needed some additional help and support. There were no zombie-rsque figures that looked like they were going to claw your eyes out, like the images portrayed on the asylum-themed billboards. They were real people, with real illnesses. People who had reached out for help and support, or whose loved ones had done so in effort to help them. They were perfectly friendly people of all ages who had jobs and kids and friends and responsibilities that they planned to go back to once they felt they had gotten the help they'd gone there for.

Can you imagine an a"attraction" in which  grossly misrepresented cancer or diabetes sufferers were used to scare visitors? This wouldn't fly, because it's not only inaccurate, but it's horrendously insensitive to those who battle these illnesses, who have loved ones who battle these, who lost loved ones to these. So why are mental health conditions any different? Why is it OK to put these illnesses, and the people who have them, on display in grotesque caricature form and call it entertainment? Quite frankly, it's not. And they need to stop.


  1. Nice essay. I especially like your point at the end where you say that no one would make a Halloween exhibit related to cancer or diabetes. (Actually, they might, but point taken.)

    1. I agree - I actually read about a Halloween attraction called "urgent scare" in which it was all kinds of ER scenes that are supposed to be scary. That's also distasteful to people suffering those injuries/illness, not to mention it could probably create flashbacks for a good number of people. So I guess they might make one for diabetes or cancer, but they'd probably get a lot more eyebrows raised at that.