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

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I am fortunate in this way though: I have never wanted to kill myself. At times I have desired to not exist at all, but in that there is a gap. I lack the actual will for making this life end. I have thought about how it could be done, but this is always just an intellectual phantom because I have never felt the will to take my own life rise within me. Yet, in these moments, it is very much like being physically dead while the mind still whirs. I am frozen by the cold. I am under the ice. I am not waving but drowning.

Both of these states can last for months and they can shuffle themselves like a living pack of cards, the outcome of which I can not easily predict.

As to the cost, it feels like each time I wake up I am in effect gambling on what the brain might decide for me today: daily function can be a struggle. I am made tired just watching my own frenetic moods, and that allows for little energy for anything else. I organize things almost obsessively. Organization, you see, can help me extinguish anxiety which in turn can save me from depression.

I’ll also check things with a compulsion that often spoils rather than makes better: I have been attempting to write a novel now for the past two years. Just when I am close to finishing, I convince myself the novel is lacking and, in a manic frenzy will rewrite only then to repeat the cycle when the next depression comes. I am slowly winning this fight, but it is a grind that to others must be mystifying.

Other facets of my illness include anxiety to the point of ridiculousness over trivial things like catching public transport, paying my taxes, meeting friends at restaurants, going on holiday and, perhaps most encumbering of all, being emotionally and physically close to people.

Thankfully, though, there are people that have been trained to understand the symptoms of illnesses like mine, mental health practitioners who can offer guidance, behavioral therapies, even medication should the case warrant. Yes there is a strong support system, if people are only aware of it.

You can understand, though, why when faced with the prospect of headlines about “mental health patient” costumes, blood spattered and meat cleaver in hand, they make me catch my breath and wince.

I am not the homicidal mental patient that the media so often invokes to reduce tragedies to simple explanations, and yet my mental health issues would put me sailing, at least in the minds of the uninitiated, in fairly similar waters.

Also, this kind of stigma has real impact. It could prevent a young person with an emerging mental health issue from seeking help, believing they are now beyond it or are not worthy of being helped. I used to feel like that. I know how isolating it is.

In turn, this could feed into the neuroses that drives a sufferer deeper into depression, substance abuse and poor physical health that, in Britain alone, is thought to lead to 33,000 people dying every year. It could even contribute to the one death every two hours that in England alone comes as a result of suicide.

So for those who complain that such costumes are just a bit of fun, I readily say I agree it is important that we not be over sensitive and recognize that for many people they are just that: fun. No offense intended. I hope that many of you will have a great time this Halloween and then return home, pack away your costumes and recall the night of celebration with fondness.

I suppose, then, this is a plea to spare a thought and remember that for those people like me, mental illness isn’t a costume we can take off; it’s a reality for every day of the year.

With understanding and support though, mental illness can be managed.

If you would like more information relating to mental health and mental health services, here are a few links that might be of use:

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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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