Monday, October 30, 2006
Happy Stigma-Free Halloween
Halloween, one of the world's oldest holidays, is still celebrated today in many countries around the globe.
This tradition first started with The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland. They celebrated the New Year on November 1st. This day marked the end of summer harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter - a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the New Year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. So, on the night of October 31st, they celebrated "Samhain", which means hallow tide, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. The Celts built bonfires and wore ghostly costumes to drive the evil spirits away, and carried a potato or turnip candle lantern to intimidate the demons around them.
In later times, the Roman Catholic Church claimed November 1st as "All Saints Day" and October 31st as "All Hallow's Eve". Eventually "All Hallows' Eve" was shortened to "Halloween" - the name we now use for this long-standing tradition.
The Nationals Alliance for Mental Illness reminds us that not only is it the season for ghosts and goblins, but also stigma.
In some communities, halloween attractions take the form of "Insane Asylums" featuring mental patients as murderers or ghouls. Even though intended as fun, the violent stereotypes serve to perpetuate stigma -- which as reported by the U.S. Surgeon General is one of the greatest barriers to people getting help when they need it. It also is the source of prejudice and discrimination that leads to isolation and impedes progress toward recovery.
In the town where I live, a Halloween event called "The Asylum" was being sponsored by a well known sport and amusement park. The event promised scary sights of crazy mental patients in strait jackets and deranged and delusional individuals stalking the grounds. Luckily, many mental health agencies joined together to educate the owners about how this would perpetuate stigma. And you know what? They conceded and changed the event to "The House of the Living Dead".
I hope everyone has a fun, safe and "stigma-free" Halloween.
The History Channel