If you’re dressing up for a Halloween party this weekend, or perhaps a spot of trick or treating (I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you have young children), you might want to leave the straitjacket at home.
Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb has spoken out about the proliferation of costumes that present mentally ill people as monsters. As ITV reports, he’ll give a speech later today to a National Child and Adult Services conference in Manchester urging retailers to reconsider selling outfits like ‘Adult Skitzo’, which comes with an orange jumpsuit, shackles, and a restraining face mask (pictured) or the classy beyond imagining ‘Psychotic Nympho’.
Obviously these are cartoonish depictions, but they play into the idea that people experiencing mental illness are scary, when research overwhelmingly shows that mentally ill people are much more likely to be victims of crime than to commit it. The fact that these outfits perpetuate negative stereotypes is particularly damaging given the stigma around mental illness – a campaign launched this week highlights the fact that 9 out of 10 mentally ill people experience discrimination.
The costumes also promote ignorance – for example, that psychotic means dangerous, when it only refers to someone who experiences temporary delusions, or that schizophrenia is something we should all be TERRIFIED of. That surely only makes it harder for people with mental illness to ask for help and be able to share their experiences.
Says Lamb, ‘For me it is horrendous that, this Halloween, a young person experiencing a mental health crisis could easily come across someone in a ‘psycho ward’ or ‘schizo patient’ costume… It conditions all of us to fear mental illness – to see people as ‘psychos’, or ‘schizos’ or ‘freaks’.’
Last year, Tesco, Asda, and Amazon withdrew ‘mental patient’ costumes from sale following a public outcry, but many other retailers are only too happy to sell costumes showing slavering ‘lunatics’, ‘psychos’, and co.
As the Guardian points out, the owner of Jokers Masquerade has written a blog post defending the sale of this costume, saying that ‘it is not within our best interest to alienate or offend anyone’. His argument is that people can tell the difference between a Skitzo costume and a real-life ‘mental patient’ and that if there’s demand for such an outfit, his company shouldn’t be pressured into not selling it.
And I guess ultimately that’s the real issue. Not just that these Halloween costumes exist, but that so many people still find them scary/cute/funny, and can’t wait to slip into one.
Image via Jokers’ Masquerade.
If you’re more interested in getting a new camera than new clothes this season, you might be interested in these camera accessories for your iPhone, which beg the question: Do you need a camera if you own a camera phone?