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Why People Are Trying to Stop a Ghost Hunt in This Abandoned 'Insane' Asylum

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From TV shows like “American Horror Story,” horror films like “Grave Encounters” and even popular Halloween costumes, the haunted “insane” asylum is a familiar theme. These abandoned buildings are depicted as scary places with ghostly halls, where the souls of “crazy” and dangerous residents linger, ready to torture any poor victim who comes near.

It’s prevalence in our culture makes it easy to forget the humbling fact that people used to live in these asylums. People with mental illnesses received treatment there. And it’s these people who were affected most by the major deinstitutionalization starting in the late 50s that left many on the streets.

It’s this theme that Mia Scott, a 23-year-old from the United Kingdom, was challenging when she started a petition to stop the Newsham Park Mental Hospital in Liverpool from being used as a ghost hunt venue. The petition currently has 120 signatures.

“The businesses that run these ghost tours are capitalizing on other people’s misery,” Scott told The Mighty in an email. “Instilling the idea that mental health patients are a horror story is just reinforcing the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health problems.”

The ghost hunt is part of a series of attractions organized by Haunted Happenings, a company that, according to its website, hosts “real ghost hunts in some of the U.K.’s most terrifyingly haunted locations.” It also host ghost hunts in castles, prisons, caves and other abandoned buildings. Tickets for touring the Newsham Park Mental Hospital cost 69 euros — or about $77 — each.

Scott isn’t the only one who’s spoken out against the tour. James Harris, head of communications at the Mental Health Foundation, told The Independent, “We would be concerned in the sense that they are trading on the history of these buildings in a voyeuristic way when really they serve as a reminder of how badly treated people living with mental illness were.”

This can only add to the stigma which still surrounds mental health problems by perpetuating the myth that those of us with a mental illness might be ‘scary,’” Kate Nightingale, head of communications at Time to Change, also told The Independent. “It also contributes to an outdated image of what mental health wards might be like – which can’t be helpful for anyone considering seeking help for a mental health problem.”

Examples of these kinds of tours can be found in the United States. At the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia, guests can tour the main building for $100/person, plus tax. At the Rolling Hills Asylum in East Bethany, New York, parties can go on a nine-hour hunt, with prices ranging from $675 to $1050. The website says the location “became a dumping ground for the outcasts of society. Widows and orphans mingled with lunatics and the unclaimed dead were buried on the property.”

Scott said she understands why people may think tours like these don’t have a big impact. But for her, this issue is personal. She has a close family member currently living in a secure mental health unit.

“To think that in 100 years time the place she calls home could be being used to scare people sickens me to my stomach,” she told The Mighty. “Mental health patients are more of a danger to themselves than to others and they are not people to be feared.”

Originally published: July 28, 2015
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