Technically speaking, I’m a mental health patient. I don’t have a meat cleaver or scary mask, but I am one. I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety (exacerbated by seasonal changes in particular) at various points throughout my life, and although I do not see any medical person or body currently, I am not living or staying inside a hospital or other institution and I have not taken medication for years, I still need to maintain my own brain and monitor it closely at all times. I have the ability to relapse back into a highly depressed state at any point and without much warning. I have the capacity to act in an extremely unreasonable manner.
It’s hard to talk about, and much easier to try and hide. Because there is such a stigma associated with mental health. Think about it. The media and our lives are saturated on an almost daily basis (and especially around Halloween) with colloquial terms for mental illness, like ‘psycho’. Like ‘crazy’. We use these terms all the time, to describe any number of things, from someone we felt behaved in a way we would not ourselves behave to a lunch hour that passed in slightly unexpected manner. We don’t pay much attention to this habit of making light of mental health problems constantly and unfortunately, we don’t always pay much attention to those that may become offended by such lighthearted use of these words. Consequently, there are scores of people with mental health problems (and these can be anything from serious psychotic conditions to mild depression or anxiety) who are too afraid to speak up. They are afraid of what people will think of them, how they will be labelled. I am afraid. And it would be so much easier to hide it. But I try not to because nothing will ever change if we hide these things away, if we shut ourselves up. A great number of things offend me.
But when a news story turned up on BBC News the other day about Asda removing a Halloween costume titled ‘Mental Patient Costume’ from it’s shelves amid great uproar from the general public, I wasn’t offended. Actually, my first thought was ‘I’d wear that! How hilarious!’. Then I saw the backlash that was happening on Twitter, the stunned reaction from the mental health charities and the campaign that Time to Change began running, asking people to tweet photos of themselves in everyday dress with the hashtag #mymentalpatientcostume. And I was a little stunned, I have to say. Why was everybody getting so upset suddenly about the verbal abuse of a whole section of society that has always existed? Why now, when it’s been happening every single day for years. When every Halloween, we all crowd to the nearest cinema to sit in the dark and watch Crazy Psycho Killers IV, about a man who has suffered a terrible childhood and mental health problems for years, hid it away, went a little insane and started shooting up the neighbourhood. Yeah, you know what, if you had a mental health problem that you’d been hiding for years because of the stigma attached to it, you may well one day go on a rampage too. But we don’t. We shrug and accept it, and carry on and try to pretend it isn’t happening.
Then one day, a well known supermarket chain decides, rather than to use a colloquial term, they are going to inject a potent dose of reality into proceedings and use the CORRECT name for something, and in a classic example of political correctness gone mad (wait, are we still allowed to say ‘mad’?) the entire world erupts in disbelief and outrage. I can’t help but wonder, what are we reacting to here? Is it a costume put on the shelves by a supermarket, or is it the choice of language, a choice that suddenly throws a spotlight on mental health in all it’s ugly reality, because this ridiculous, over used stereotype is no longer being covered up with everyday vernacular like ‘psycho’? It’s harder to hide from something when it’s labelled correctly and formally. Asda put a white lab coat spattered with blood on it’s shelves, label it ‘mental patient’ and the penny drops. We all look at it and realise ‘oh yeah. We’ve been perpetuating this stereotype for YEARS. For decades. And now we can’t hide from it anymore. Reality hits hard and we don’t like it.
The real issue here is that we do not make enough effort to understand things that exist in plain sight but that we have little experience of. And mental health is one of these things. I laughed when I saw this article, when I saw what Asda had done. Not because I don’t find this issue offensive. But because actual ‘mental health patients’ have been living with this sort of thing for years and I think that Asda have perhaps done us a favour by (accidentally) bringing this subject into the fore. We became hardened to constant, ‘light hearted’ ridiculing of the mental health patient, we just got used to it because we HAD to. Something like this happens and now perhaps the rest of the world has finally caught up with us.
To everybody making a fuss about the labeling of a Halloween costume:- Here are some things you can do to better understand mental health issues instead of getting on Twitter and making a silly, politically correct fuss:-
Check out a charity like Mind or Time to Change. Read it thoroughly, read some of the experiences that real people have blogged about. Read about the stigma that millions of people are living with all over the world, and think what you can do to challenge that stigma, whether it be not referring to something as ‘crazy man!’ or by donating (but do it because you feel strongly about it, not, like Asda, because you made a faux-pas).
Have you noticed recently that one of your friends or someone you work with has been struggling, finding it difficult to cope, or is just quieter than usual? Ask them how they are. Don’t think ‘oh no but they might be volatile, they might lash out or be weird, or want to talk at length about their state of mind and problems’. They probably just want to hear that someone cares.
I’d wear that costume. Not because I want to ridicule any section of society. But because the more we talk about this sort of thing, the more the stigma diminishes. But let’s not just get offended about one silly supermarket costume okay guys? Let’s not miss the point entirely.
This blog post was written whilst listening to Crazy B*tch by Buckcherry and Down With the Sickness by Disturbed.
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