Thursday, November 1, 2012

I was Horrified! Mental Patients are Not Monsters!

This Halloween our community clubhouse had their annual haunted house. As we were about to attend the event with our older boys, I noticed that the haunted house was titled “The Asylum”. The invitation read, “Attempt to maintain your sanity as you tour through ‘The Asylum!’”

Hmmm... We decided that it was probably best to stay home.

The next day I saw the photos posted on Facebook. I have to say, I was stunned. They created a haunted house that was about mental patients being out of control. I guess I expected a little gore at a haunted house, but the scenes created were shocking to say the least.

Instead of monsters and creatures, they created a scene of a young girl dressed in a hospital gown calmly sitting in a bathtub cutting herself. Behind her were the words, “NO MORE PAIN” written in blood. All around the girl were sharp objects such as knives and broken glass used in her “cutting” episode as blood dripped from her wounds.

Another scene was a young man in a hospital gown above a toilet. He was smearing feces all over the walls.

Down the hall there was a sign that said “MED STATION” and a line of children waiting to get their meds, all appearing like drugged up victims with self-inflicted scratch marks on their faces.

A sign that said “DANGER! PSYCHOS!” hung from the hospital wall as a man that was chained in a hospital gown stood in a room surrounded by manic writings on the wall.

I usually try not to be offended, but I felt my heart race as I saw these images. They were successful in horrifying me, but it wasn’t because I was scared, instead I was thinking...

What if I had brought my kids to see this? What would my son, who himself suffers from a mental illness, think about these images?

What can images like this do to a community who has a high suicide rate in their youth? What about the parents who have found their children dead with letters of “No more pain.”

How will we ever build compassion for those suffering with mental illness if they remain a “monster” in the eyes of the public?

And most importantly consider this. Stigma is one of the greatest barriers for individuals who need help for their mental illness. Images like this can discourage people from seeking the help they need. Will the girl who cuts herself in private ever feel comfortable in asking for help? Is she afraid that people will think she’s a “dangerous psycho”? Not getting treatment can lead to her death. This is a serious issue!

I know this question is tired, but I have to ask. Would they ever think to create a haunted house with cancer patients in a cancer ward?

I’m so disappointed in my community, I know that they never intended to be offensive and that they worked really hard volunteering their time to create a fun evening for families, but they are sorely misinformed.

We have so much more work to do before society sees mental illness as a real illness, with real patients and families who suffer tremendously.

Tomorrow I’m meeting with the head of our community organization with hopes of making a change— one person at a time.


  1. That haunted house sounds absolutely despicable! There is nothing funny in the least about mental illness, and it should not be joked about in any way, shape, or form. The people who planned the haunted house should be ashamed of themselves!

  2. Oh gosh, that sounds really awful. I wonder how much experience these people have with children of trauma - not much it seems. In teens cutting is actually quite common and how ridiculous that they would be so immature and insensitive in their depiction of it all. And young child abuse victims often smear feces as a protection mechanism to keep abusive people away. I guess these children that have been innocent victims of abuse are monsters (?) That said, I could completely see this house happening in my community. Ugh. It's amazing how immature adults can be.

  3. I was horrified reading your post.

    I see two ways to look at it. One is that this sort of thing perpetuates the stigma and reinforces the idea that one should be frightened by the mentally ill.

    On the other hand it may be a step (albeit a misguided one) to more awareness. The issues are coming into people's awareness--still in the zone of the unknown and the "scary," but they are being brought up. I wonder how many people went through the haunted house and on some level asked themselves "Is this okay? Should these things be presented this way?"

    Hopefully you can get some healthy community dialogue opened up by this event. And if that is the case--then maybe something good can come of it.

    What kind of misguided committee thought that this was a good idea? There are plenty of horror movies about institutions and I don't like the misrepresentation of patients. I agree with all the above comments

    I have been in two institutions and never saw such atrocities. If I did I would be horrified to seek professional help. This whole situation is just sick.

  5. That is disgusting and I am horrified. Are you telling me children were involved in these scenes? I don't think it takes knowing someone with a mental illness to be offended by that haunted house. Anyone with a brain should be offended. Why on earth would they use scenarios of suicide and cutting and medication? Please speak up for all of us. I am positive you won't be the only one. There had to have been way more people than just you who were disgusted and disappointed. Let us know how your meeting goes. By all means print off our responses for them to read. I wish I could go with you to speak up as well.

  6. Wow. How incredibly uninformed and uneducated. Incredible. I'm thankful you're going to talk to the head of the community organization. All's they'd need to do was meet real like people like us to know that their haunted house is extremely offensive and stigma-inducing. Wow. That's horrifying.

  7. Wow!!!! My heart is still pounding!!!! ANd I was not even there! You say, you don't believe there was "harm intended" but one does have to wonder.....the way you describe it....girls cutting, with the note, "no more pain". Someone obviously has some inside info.....and as awful as this may seem....and I am just putting the question out there: but you hear so much about bullying, and how awful and nasty kids can be, I wonder if teenagers were involved in any of this could be a whole new level of bullying perhaps towards other known kids with mentall illness? You mentioned your community has a high rate of teen suicide. Why??? Are kids being bullied and teased, when it IS known that they are struggling with problems? The haunted house folks obviously have enough knowledge to know a few things about mental illness, like cutting, notes, kids taking drugs, feces smearing....Unfortunately they know just enough to be completely ignorant. This is truly appalling, and I would hope that at least some folks in the community would have the courage to stand up and protest this frightening new level of bullying!!!!!!!!! I would even consider writing Dr. Phil on this one. THese people deserve to have a public shaming!

  8. That might be the most insensitive and cruelest thing I've ever heard. Thank you for sharing this story. It inspires us to take action when we see misconceptions being spread. Go get 'em Mama Bear!!

  9. Unbelievable. People are so thoughtless sometimes. As a bipolar person, I can say that being bipolar is a train wreck enough without added judgment and stigma attached.

    A better haunted house would be giving people a taste of what it feels like to be bipolar - the horrific depression, the exhilarating mania, the mixed episodes, the insomnia, the lovely psychosis, and not to mention the fun of taking mood-altering drugs every day of your life for all eternity. But that might be too real and too painful for the general public.

  10. Yes, this is stunning. It is a freakshow mentality, emphasizing and mocking the differences of people who have no choice or control over it. Shameful. As you so rightly ask: could they do this with cancer? Alzheimers? Downs Syndrome? They would have been publicly shamed if they had made a "haunted house" about racial differences or even religious and political CHOICES...

    I am very glad I was not there. My own impulse control problems may have made the situation worse.

  11. As a parent who currently has a child in a residential treatment facility, this saddens me. It also is a picture of what I was afraid of before admitting my daughter. Some of my biggest fears were that she would be exposed to those types of situations, when at home we tend to shelter her from that. Thankfully that has been far from the truth and we are very impressed with the facility that she is in. However, I know that not all facilities are good places and abuse does happen. This type of "haunted house" only adds to the fear and separation that our kids feel anyway on a daily basis. I am glad that you chose not to take your boys to this!

  12. Why would not you do the same with a patient whom you know that he has a cancer, a cardiac disease, asthma... ??
    Just to let them feel what you felt. To let them feel the stigma you and your son experience.

    No, don't even care about "ah they are only misinformed" and all those BS excuses. There is no excuse for what they did.
    So, do the same with someone you know that he has a cancer, even better if it's because he smoked or drank alcohol, and let them feel what you felt.

    I boil from anger and I wish them to live all that. I don't even f... care if they will whine like heck : they didn't care about your feelings ? You have no reason to care about their feelings.

    Don't wrap yourself inside excuses like misinformation or any other excuse, they are so bigoted that they need a serious wake up call.
    And no better wake up call than let them feel what you felt. Even the cancer patient's family need to feel what you felt, even if they dare whining after that because they "suffer". At least, they will think twice before doing something like that.

    They don't deserve the slightest compassion after what those dared doing.
    They deserve to feel exactly the same feelings that you had felt.

    I really, but really, boil from anger, and revenge is a plate you eat coldly as we say here....