It's that time again, when some Halloween haunted houses are presented as haunted "insane asylums," featuring "mental patients" as murderous ghouls. Complaints have already started to trickle in.
Carwinds Amusement Park in Charlotte, NC will transform itself into Scarowinds on some nights beginning Sept. 17, including an attraction called "The Asylum" in which "Insanity is your only hope of forgetting sights and sounds... and you'll be wondering: just who is running this place."
Meanwhile, the "The Pennhurst Asylum" is set to open on the grounds of the Pennhurst State School and Hospital outside Philadelphia -- sparking a controversy that includes former residents of the facility.
The other traditional Halloween concern are costumes like Halloween Psycho with straitjackets and other offensive features.
Violent stereotypes are inaccurate and offensive and the U.S. Surgeon General has determined that stigma imposed on people with mental illness in our popular culture often discourages people getting help when they need it.
So What's a StigmaBuster to Do?
Local protest or education works best -- plus social media like Facebook and Twitter can help you raise public dialogue:
- Contact sponsors or operators of attractions or their sponsor to ask that offensive parts be removed or renamed. Ask that newspapers or other media not run advertisements based on their advertising standards. Use this opportunity to educate them about stigma.
- Politely ask store owners or managers to remove offensive merchandise. They may not, but at least you have created an initial level of dialogue.
- If dialogue fails, alert NAMI members, family and friends to phone, send letters or e-mails to sponsors or stores. Consider going to the news media to voice stigma concerns and provide a "teaching moment." Have family members and individuals living with a mental illness available for interviews. Send a letter to the editor.
- Contact online costume sellers. The "contact us" section of a website may have postal, email and phone information. For example, in the case of "Halloween Psycho," the company, Costumes 4u" is a division of Wyld Side, Inc. and it's customer service line is: (732) 557-6394
We've received some StigmaBuster complaints about the GEICO commercial that asks: "Does a former drill sergeant make a terrible therapist?" on the grounds that it stigmatizes people with mental illness or trivializes therapy.
Other StigmaBusters consider it hilarious and not really about mental illness.
Do you have an opinion? We'd like to know. How would you rate it on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being the worst? firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you wish to let GEICO know your thoughts about the commercial, their website provides the contact information.
Eyes and Ears
Have you seen stigma in the news, entertainment or advertising media? You are our eyes and ears! Send a report to email@example.com. Because of the large number of messages received, they cannot all be answered individually; however, we appreciate every one and review and prioritize them for action. Please also contact the source directly—you have more power than you know! We also appreciate getting copies of responses you receive to evaluate. Your help makes a difference!