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I Found Mentall Illness Costumes Funny... Until I Was the One in the Hospital Gown

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There was a time I thought a costume of a person with a mental illness was funny, perhaps even scary. This was long before I really understood my diagnoses.

I was a teenager, and I thought everything was funny. Serious was not in my vocabulary. I laughed at costumes that incorporated strait jackets. One year, I even went as a “homicidal maniac.” I found it humorous if someone wore a hospital gowns with bloody marks all over and pretended they heard voices.

Then the day came when I was one of those in the hospital gown. But instead of it being a “hilarious” costume, it was a definite reality. I was no longer the laughing teenager. I was now the mentally ill person.

I have always loved Halloween.

For a depressive, masking my real identity was a dream come true. It was the one day a year it was OK to not be myself. I could turn into anyone I wanted: a witch, a bunny, a celebrity. It was the one day a year where my spirits lifted and hiding behind a fake smile was fine. Of course, there was the candy.

This Halloween I am torn. I still enjoy the spirit of the day and watching my daughter go from house to house in costume. But I then see the “mentally ill” costumes. This year one in particular disturbed me. It was sold on and called “razor
blade suicide scar wound latex costume make up.” Because of the outrage it caused, it has been removed for sale, but the damage has still been done. To actually put the word “suicide” in a Halloween costume perplexed me to no end. Why couldn’t it have just been labeled a bloody wound? I mean, I don’t see a bald head costume labeled “cancer patient” in stores.

It hurt me for two reason: the first, I am a mentally ill person and the second, I have been suicidal before. To actually reach a point where the only “resolution” you have is to rid yourself from the earth is scary. I sat with this topic for awhile and asked myself the following question: “Why would anyone want to dress up as a suicidal person?”

Many answers came forth to me, and none of them good. First, for some strange reason, people think it is cool. Nope, sorry, suicide is not cool. It is serious. The second, mentally ill people are seen as scary. Really, you wouldn’t even recognize most of us. The third, “it’s funny.” The people who might tell me, “it’s just a joke, it’s Halloween, stop being so serious,” have probably never been mentally ill or suicidal.  Both are extremely serious topics.

All of it comes back to stigma. While I thought we were making great strides in eradicating the stigma associated with mental illness, it takes one fun holiday to make me realize, maybe we haven’t. Costumes depicting “insane” people should not be sold next to Darth Vader, Minions or Princesses. They shouldn’t even be on the shelves at all. It makes me worry for my daughter’s future. While she has witnessed my mental illness and knows I live a mostly typical life and that I am not scary, there are other children out there who aren’t being taught the same, that people with mental illnesses are relatively typical like the rest of the population. It’s time to make Halloween jovial and fun again!

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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Stock photo by dgmata

Originally published: October 31, 2016
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