October 20, 2015

By Luna Greenstein

NAMI Wake County was in outrage after receiving a picture of a stigmatizing Halloween costume that depicted a patient at the Dorthea Dix Inpatient Psychiatry Unit at UNC Wakebrook. The costume was apparently supposed to be a portrayal of someone living with mental illness with blood spattered across the costume. NAMI Wake County did not hesitate for a moment before leaping into action.

The first step they took was sending a board member, Judith DeHavilland, to the Halloween Alley in Cary Towne Center store to ask the store manager directly to take the costume off the shelf. The manager indicated to Judith that they were unwilling to remove the costume.

Not wavered by the store staff’s response, NAMI Wake’s Advocacy Team Chair, Ann Ackland, rallied supporters by asking them for backing in their cause. Hundreds of people including high-ranking public officials, mental health providers, community leaders and community stakeholders responded by calling and visiting the store to express their concern and anger.

One of these individuals was also able to track down the contact information of the president of the company that owns the store, so they started populating his line with complaints as well.

After a few hours, the storeowner replied to these calls by saying that he was taking down the costume and asked the protestors to stop calling.  

“Teamwork is the power of grassroots,” wrote Gerry Akland, President of NAMI Wake County. Teamwork is the reason NAMI Wake County was able to achieve this goal in less than 24 hours. 

After contacting the press, the story was immediately picked up by the local news station WNCN 17 and the local newspaper, the News and Observer. By the next day both ABC11 and TWC had covered the story as well.

According to ABC11 news, company spokesperson Eli Brightbill said, “It was definitely not our intention to offend anyone. There are many things that we sell that can be portrayed as offensive to one group or another. So, did I expect someone to be possibly offended? Yes. Did I expect there to be as big of an outcry as there was? No.”

Some people may not view this costume as offensive or may feel that there are more important issues to focus on. However, this costume both creates and perpetuates the idea that people who live with mental illness are irrationally violent and scary, when people with mental illness are actually more likely to be the victims of violent crimes. It is costumes like this and other forms of stigma that make people feel ashamed to admit that they live with mental illness. 

Submit To The NAMI Blog

We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.


NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).