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.


NAMI Stigmabusters

The History Channel


PalmTreeChick said...

Very interesting Dr. D. I never thought about. I think I like getting dressed up for Halloween more now as an "adult" than I did as a child. I have no where to go but I still get dressed up. :)

Marj aka Thriver said...

Hey, looks like the word verification graphic is back up! Thanks for this post, Dr. Deb. I've included it in the Oct. Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse. Many of us who are simply trying to heal from abuse also experience stigma in the form of rejection, mistrust, punishment and being penalized (like not being able to get mental health insurance).

It is one of my main advocacy goals to help erase stigma in all its forms, whenever and wherever I can. The blog carnival is at http://survivorscanthrive.blogspot

Donna said...

Now if people would just understand that a schizophrenic is more likely to harm themselves than others!

Glad to hear that "The Asylum" in your town was changed.

~Deb said...

Uneducated people will cause that stigma---just the same as people who don't educate themselves enough on HIV---they think you can get the disease by touching hands, or giving a kiss on the cheek. Same concept.

The history of how Halloween was started is so interesting, isn't it?

Great story and so well written! Loved this!

Your mentally ill blogger friend

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that Deb. I never knew that was how Halloween started.

We don't really celebrate Halloween the way you guys do over in the USA. Unless you are kids and you go trick or treating or a student in university and getting drunk at a party the day goes by the same as any other.

Joel said...


I can only imagine what my DBSA meeting is going to look like tomorrow....

Should I call one person and tell her/him that we're having a costume party?

Flea said...

Halloween has provided occaision for some monumental displays of insensitivity and flat-out bad taste.

How about the waiting room of an outpatient oncology infusion ward festooned with ghosts, witches, and goblin iconography?

Cancer patients, folks looking the real grim reaper in the face, come in and sit in this room waiting for their chemo.

Whatcha wanna do with folks like that?



Dawn said...

we went to a haunted house thingy on saturday night and they also used people in strait jackets in one of the areas.

we just finished setting up our halloween display for this year. I can't wait for tomorrow night.

Happy Halloween :)

Kim said...

Good job! And kudos to the park for listening!

Wendy C. said... of our favorite Halloween movies (in fact we watched it tonight) is Halloween - a classic tale of, you guessed it, an insane murderer who escapes from an asylum to start killing innocent teenagers! It just seemed like good clean spooky fun, but now that I actually think about it, it is perpetuating a stereotype. I'll be sure and chat with my kids about it when they get up tomorrow so they're aware too.

Ian Lidster said...

I lived in England for a year in 1980-81 and Halloween was virtually unheard of there at that time. Now it has become huge, both in the UK and France and probably elsewhere in Europe. I don't know if that is a good thing, but it's certainly a triumph for North American marketing.
Happy Halloween, dear Deb.

Rose said...

I'm not into Halloween and that stuff. I did it when I was small child for the candy and I took my daughter out for the experience. But I really never knew the meaning. In the last couple of years though, I heard it was the devil's holiday. Thanks for the information.

Id it is said...

Good one! Ignorance breeds prejudice as they say.

Michelle said...

Kudos to your collegues for nipping that Asylum thing at the amusement park in the bud. When it comes to stigmas and stereotypes, a little education can go a long way.

Anonymous said...

I think Halloween is a great opportunity to express your inner-demons, or inner-goofiness. Tonight I will be the Green Lantern ~ using my power ring to right the wrongs of the world and defend the helpless. I hear that there will be many villains on the street tonight and the world needs its heros :)

Wanda's Wings said...

Educational and interesting. Have a safe and happy Halloween.

April_optimist said...

How appalling anyone could have thought it would be a good idea!

My own theory is that like so many things, people want to put a psychological distance between themselves and things that scare them. If people who have mental illness are somehow creatures who belong in a Halloween display then they aren't something or someone the person will turn into him or herself. See how bizarre they are? I'm not like that so mental illness couldn't happen to me.

Glad the park changed the theme of their event.

Sunnie Dee said...

Interesting post thanks deb. I have grown up in a country where halloween for the most part has not been celebrated until the last five or ten years and even then the only part that is celebrated the trick or treating - the kids want their lollies.

Belizegial said...

Dr. Deb,

What an interesting review of the historical background to halloween. I always learn something new whenever I visit your site.

My blog has been invaded by some witches who are up to no good! LOL
Stop by for some Witches Brew anytime.


Nancy said...

Its a very interesting history. Halloween has never been one of my favorite 'holidays'. I did not have a reason for it and maybe it the 'making fun of the ill that i didn't like'.

healthpsych said...

Of Celt descent myself, I didn't know the origins of Halloween! So, thank you for that! I always learn something here, Deborah.

How good to see that the Halloween organisation changed the theme. A small step towards destigmatisation of mental health but a step nonetheless.

jumpinginpuddles said...

we are just happy we made it through but only just

Anonymous said...

i never thought about the stigma associated. Thank you for pointing this out. I will remember to make noise next time i come across it and will certainly cite you :D

I am wondering though, if the opposite could also come true? In that I am wondering if this could be away making people less frightened of people who are seriously mentally ill. In parts of Asia (I am not sure about the US) people are generally afraid of the mentally ill. It’s a fear that raises from a thought that they are somehow dangerous, evil, and may even spread their “disease”. I wonder if ‘celebrating’ a mental illness a way to go in removing some of that associated fear.

But, I agree with you dr. deb. If all that is not carefully done it most definitely is most likely to end up in stigma, prejudice, and discrimination rather than cure.

Cheers n booooooo