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Being a ‘Mental Patient’: A Halloween Costume We Can’t All Take Off

Being a ‘Mental Patient’: A Halloween Costume We Can’t All Take Off
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Two British supermarkets were forced to remove “mental patient” and “psycho” Halloween costumes from their websites last week after complaints that they were insensitive and offensive to those with mental health problems.

ASDA, a WalMart subsidiary, and TESCO were both found to carry in their online catalogs Halloween costumes that mental health charities described as dehumanizing and damaging to those with mental health issues. On sale at ASDA for £20 ($32) was a “mental patient” outfit, complete with fake blood, a mask and fake meat cleaver, while Tesco had what was described as a “psycho ward adult costume” for sale at £18.45 ($30).

A social media storm brewed, the news broke across a variety of media outlets and even made national and international news. The supermarkets swiftly withdrew the costumes, saying they were deeply sorry for any offense caused. ASDA also promised a sizable donation to the mental health charity MIND.

Those concerned by this issue said that withdrawing the costumes was the responsible thing to do, but some on social media were less understanding and thought the costumes were simply a harmless bit of fun that draws on established cultural stereotypes.

For me this story is something that carries personal resonance.

I am among the one in four British people, and countless others around the world, who has or will suffer from some form of mental health problem.

Like people with physical illnesses who have invisible symptoms, like those with MS for instance, I must face the difficulty of explaining why to the world’s eyes I appear perfectly healthy while, in reality, I am standing on the point of a knife.

To one side there is a super-heated edge which as I slide cuts with sparking euphoria. This is Mania. It carries a special poison that makes me feel as though I am not injured at all. In fact, to feel the love of this blade is like being told the Unified Theory. Suddenly, everything makes sense. The mind will race, the passions flare and I could run all night. I am arrogant in these moments. Prone to mistakes. It is exhausting to come down to normal speed.

Yet on the other side, and by no means the kinder cut, there is the darker blade. Depression. Its touch feels like winter ice and it bites as it pushes through the skull. It cools everything with a special kind of crystal dread that vibrates only to my songs of fear, of doubt, of self loathing; it sings them back with repetition seeming endless while carving out new slights and sins and mutilating me to invent errors that were not mine at all.

Daily I balance on the knife point with careful attention, managing myself as I have been taught, all the while fearing the wobble that is coming. And it is coming.

It can be the slightest thing that will make me fall.

A new idea might blaze just a degree too hot and I am gone for days in the hot madness of creating. I might not sleep, or if I do it is to the punctuation of fevered dreams. All else is trivial. I will consume books four at a time. I will exercise with fervent love for the physical. I will crave sexual contact as though it is air.

Or perhaps it will be the slightest of errors of which no one else but me cares, and then I am all gone away. I am hollowed out by the desire to vanish.

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Top Photo Credit: Thinkstock; photos in post:The Blaze

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7:43PM PST on Nov 30, 2013

disgusting costumes in incredibly poor taste!

5:35PM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

Don't worry at we have costumes that don't offend anybody except for zombies and cops.

4:51PM PDT on Oct 5, 2013

You Know what? I am fed the "f" up with political correctness! It is Halloween for Pete's sake.... It is for children! They want to go as the scariest thing they can. I am a nut job and I can assure you that when I dress for work (that is when I do dress for work) I look like neither one of the costumes pictured! Yes, mental health issues are no joke, however, Halloween IS!

10:35AM PDT on Oct 5, 2013


4:50AM PDT on Oct 4, 2013

Oh well.

11:32PM PDT on Oct 3, 2013

People are so overly sensitive these days. Sometimes you have to do linguistic acrobatics to try to express something and words that have a specific meaning are now considered taboo. I am bipolar type II and have even been institutionalized, but I couldn't care less about some basically meaningless ridiculous costume that is worn once a year. Next thing you know, neopagans will insist on removing witch costumes from Halloween. People need to get real lives and quit worrying about minor issues.

7:44PM PDT on Oct 3, 2013

Beautifully written and a spot-on description of the illness that also plagues me.
I will be watching for your book to come out Steve Williams. Keep working on it.
This example of your writing makes me want you to finish so I can read it.
The costumes are not funny but they are not worth upsetting yourself either.
Thank you for the article.

4:22AM PDT on Oct 3, 2013

I spent two and a half years locked up as a mental patient diagnosed as schizophrenic because my mother was a bully and I was too afraid of her to rat on her even after I ended up in a mental hospital over it.

3:59AM PDT on Oct 3, 2013

Very well written article. Thank you , Steve. AS a person with PTSD-I find these costumes.-- to just plain STUPID---&--thoughtless---glad they were "pulled". Mental Health problems are not a joke.

2:25AM PDT on Oct 3, 2013

No, they had a sense of humor, not a brainectomy.
PC run amok is a brainectomy.

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