Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I Am So Angry!!!

My heart is pounding, my hands are trembling with anger. I want to scream—I am so mad.

Last year my local community clubhouse created a haunted house event. Here is an excerpt from my post of what horrified me:
...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 more 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!
What followed was a conversation with the director, I explained how this type of event was hurtful to those who are suffering since it contributes to the stigma we’re trying to fight. Here was her response:
She seemed to be really listening, admitting that she had no idea families like ours were dealing with these issues. At one point her eyes softened and she started to tear up a little. 
She said, “You know, I did have a gut feeling that this would be wrong in the very beginning, but the younger staff members talked me out of it.” She then went on to share how she grew up with a child who was disabled and was well aware of the struggles that individuals face when they’re different than the “norm”. 
Before I left I asked her if they would consider not using mental illness as a theme in the future and to remove the offensive images off of facebook. 
She nodded her head in agreement and apologized for their insensitivity and promised she would have a talk with her staff.
So let’s flash forward one year later when today I receive an invite to our community clubhouse event that advertises a haunted house with the headline:

All souls 10 & up can try to maintain their sanity as they venture through the Maze of Madness.

WHAT!!! Are they serious? Hoping this was just a typo from using the text from last year’s event I called the clubhouse and spoke to the director of events.

What I got in response was, “Yes, we’re doing this... Nobody else complained last year, you were the only one... We’re not making a political statement, we’re just having fun...”

I tried to explain how portraying the mentally ill as monsters is hurtful to those like my son who have already dealt with the negative stigma from classmates. An event like this would only continue this stigma in a community that already has a large suicide rate among the teens.

I think I heard him laugh at me over the phone.

When I asked if they were going to use stray jackets again, he said in a pompous tone, “Yeah, maybe even two!”

When I agreed that they weren’t trying to be political, but that they were still contributing to the stigma even if they were “just having fun”, he told me that if I was offended, I should not come this year.

When I mentioned getting the media’s attention, he responded, “Tell the media, we’d love it!”

An hour later I got a call from the clubhouse, this time the manager. He told me that since I was only one voice, he couldn’t justify stopping this event. He said that 700-800 people loved it last year and I was the only person that didn’t like it. I explained that I was in favor of the event and just wanted them to avoid using mental illness in their theme. He said that he didn’t want to put limits on the creativity of the events director (previous person I spoke with). When I explained that in the media he would find many other people that are against this type of event and how it can bring some negative attention to our small community, he told me that he didn’t think I would contact the media and hinted that this would expose my son (He knows my family’s name). So I was told to stand before the board of directors and state my objection next month.

Now I sit fuming with anger over this.

Am I justified? Or am I being foolish?

My gut tells me to not let this go, yet I don’t want to do anything that exposes my son.

What would you do?

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Here is the update to the above post:

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Previous Posts:

I was Horrified! Mental Patients are Not Monsters!


  1. Call the city beat reporter in your town and explain the issue. If you're willing to be interviewed on the record (and be photographed by the offensive exhibit), I'd be surprised if they didnt take you up on the offer.

    My little sister and I both have mental illnesses severe enough to have required therapists/meds/in patient treatment starting in elementary school -- and made it to adulthood in large part due to excellent medical treatment -- and have been similarly horrified by vile "horror houses" like the one you describe. We called the local beat reporter, happily gave on the record interviews and posed for photos in front of the "attraction". Heck, one year we even provided a photo of our mum, who committed suicide shortly after my little sister was born. The lingering stigma about mental illness needs to end -- as there are many, many people who are too scared to seek treatment as a result of it.

    This was shortly after we finished college, when we were in our early 20s (18+ years ago), we called the same paper annually for years (3?? Maybe 4?)... and eventually the "attraction" changed their haunted house. It was likely a result of the Scream movies rather than our efforts, but it was meaningful to fight the good fight.

    (People have stereotypes of what they think mental illness looks like -- I can't tell you how MANY people approached me, as if it had not occured to them that people with mental illnesses could be pretty, young, gainfully employed college grads. You know, people, just like everybody else).

    1. Wow, I am so impressed with your brave actions. I wish I could do the same, but since my son is a minor, I don't want to cause him attention he didn't ask for. But I am so proud of what you did. That is just the thing my town needs! Way to go!!!

  2. I am horrified! They are exploiting you by use of a veiled threat to expose your minor son. I agree, you shouldn't just let this go. What can we do to help you?

    1. Their threat made me sick. Even their tone of voice is haunting me, it’s like they were mocking me. I wish I knew what to do. If I think of something you can help with I will let you know. Thanks for being by my side, I need the support right now.

  3. Send me an address, I'll write a letter. Maybe even post the address, and if most of your blog followers are willing to write a letter then they aren't dealing with just "one complaint" You can't rent the Disney Movie *Song of the South* anymore. And I'm sure they're excuse for making that movie was that it wasn't harmful to black people--just a little light hearted depiction of the way things are... They would never even consider--even with creative "liberty" portraying black people as devils in their haunted house. This is a civil rights issue.
    But this sentiment isn't going to change until we raise many voices. I would also be willing to write a letter to a congress person--this is the sort of thing that is at the root of community shootings--people feeling disenfranchised. You could also start a petition--I don't know what the rules of how your name needs to be used on that. Call Oprah? Or 60 Minutes? Yes that would cause exposure--so you have to weigh what will be best for your son. But if he's not safe living in his community as himself--then what kind of community is that?

    What does your son think about it--does he want to raise his voice? A young man speaking out about stigma and its pain is a powerful thing in the media. I think you should ask him how he feels and what he would like to do. Do his classmates know about his issues? Maybe they could do a letter writing campaign?

  4. A couple of ideas--As Heather said, post the contact information and I'm sure some of your blog followers will follow up with letters and emails.

    See if you can find a local reporter who would be willing to work with you on this and protect your anonymity. Especially given the mental health issues of the Naval Yard shooter in DC, this could be a timely and interesting story for a reporter who is interested.

    Is there a NAMI chapter anywhere near you? Perhaps if you call them they would take this issue on.

    I'll send along any other ideas as they pop into my head.

  5. This is wrong - even in my rural redneck western town this would never happen. The local NAIMI organization would be up in arms. Is their a local NAIMI organization where you live? What about engaging a local organization of mental health professionals. It just takes a few people to start a movement - last 2500 people walked in the NAIMI walk in my town with high school football players leading the way. Good luck!

  6. This is disgusting. That line about creativity is such a cop out. They're not being very creative if they are reusing a theme from last year. Of the hundreds of thousands of terrifying themes out there, they couldn't select one more community appropriate and inclusive? Perhaps you could run a rival haunted house. The theme? Their insensitivity and ignorance. I can appreciate your predicament. I don't want my diagnosis out there publicly, especially in light of recent events. It's such a crucial time right now for fostering inclusion and understanding of mental health issues with all of the negative media coverage. I just try and focus on people like Kay Jamison and Nikola Tesla. They (as well as my family, of course!) keep me going as I work towards my degree. Since no one seems to be working with us, I guess it's up to us to prove that the mentally ill can inspire exponentially more often than they incite fear.

  7. I find it sad that a community run event would treat someone in their own community with such a threatening and mocking tone. It's tough when they are so little, because you want them to grow up with as much "normalcy" in their lives as they can and without having the stigma of people seeing them as different. I understand why you would want to protect them. I also see that the people you spoke with need to learn they need to show respect for disabilities. What would happen if they had offended another culture or ethnic background or just some other disabilty? The city would not put up with that. I wonder if contacting the mayor would be an option. Put a bug in his ear about media attention (whether you intend to or not). If he doesn't listen, keep moving up the chain of command. Everyone of those people have supervisors of some sort. I'm sure the senators wouldn't like to hear about this either...If enough people are aware of the treatment you have had to endure to fight for tolerance, someone will listen. It will only take one. The right one to make a difference or at least shut this section down. It will also teach those idiots at the community event that they can't mess with you or any of our children!

  8. I agree with the comments above. This is completely inappropriate and utterly harmful. In addition to contacting media and other authorities, please tell US what to do, and I imagine you will have an army standing with you... I'll await your instructions.

  9. I agree with the comments above. This haunted house is completely inappropriate and utterly harmful. Please let US know how we can help, in addition to media and other authorities. I await your instructions!

  10. I can't think it possible that if anyone can make a change in this horrific situation, it would be YOU! Yes, we all are with you and whatever it takes, I for one, stand right beside you. I love you, my "MAKE A DIFFERENCE MOM".

  11. I have bipolar 1 disorder and ADHD and, guess what? I am a loving mother of 4 kids and successfully run two businesses out of my home, not to mention all the other things I do with SUCCESS. Those of us with mental health issues are people too! This kind of stuff makes me literally sick to my stomach. Thank you for this post and I can't wait to check out more of your blog for more info.

  12. As one of the other comments said, post their contact information. I for one would be happy to provide them with some thoughts on their insensitive, irresponsible, and calllous behavior. I'm all for a fun haunted house but they have crossed a line and are showing thier ignorance. I'm so sorry that you even have to deal with this. When you are already worn down from climbing the mountain that is mental illness you are then given the task of being a community activist. But as we all know, if not us then who?

  13. As another comment said, PUBLISH the contact info. I'd be happy to try to help them understand how insensitive, irresponsible, and callous their "Creative" ways are. It is exhausting dealing with mental health issues to begin with then we have to all become community activists. I suppose as the saying goes, If not me then who? I'll be looking for the info :) Hang in there!

  14. Unbelievable and so insensitive and disgusting. I remember your story from last year very well. If I were you, I would write a letter or an editorial piece and send it to your local paper. You wouldn't even have to mention anything about you're son if you're uncomfortable with that. You could copy and paste most of the info from this post. Or contact a local news station. And I'd be happy to post the contact info for the community center on my website or FB page.

  15. You "F" with Mama Bear... You get Papa Bear!!!!!
    It's ON!

  16. Publish the Address of both the people who are putting on the haunted house and the reporter whom others could write to on your behalf. I would write two letters for you. This is empowering Mama Bear! And I mean empowering to us who suffer with mental illness quietly so as not to offend anybodies sensibilities. We go to the doctors and take the meds and try to be our best but how can we portray that when you are unable to admit publicly that you are ill because of horror houses like that which play on the minds of others. I would NOT want to go to a haunted house like that. It is an awful awful theme. You don't see haunted houses with soldiers being shot because that is insensitive. Horrific experiences should not be exploited when it invokes a sense of shame and pain in those who deal with it most closely. My e-mail is still on my blog if wish to e-mail me any addresses and I swear I will play an advocate for your family and myself on this matter. Erhhhh that just makes me so angry!

  17. I got your back sister!

  18. Give their address and we will be very happy to write letters and emails in order to make things change.

    Also, ask your son how would he feel with talking about mental illness stigma.

    You're not alone, you can even reach help from outside the US. For my part, I'll be more than happy to make them feel STFU from their callous irresponsible and mean manners.
    It's a civil rights issue, you cannot let it go.

  19. I don't think you have to suffer with a mental illness to be appalled at this. You wouldn't even need to mention your son. We have enough problems with teen suicide, cutting, and other destructive behaviors without making them into a joke. I think this goes beyond the community of people with mental illness.

  20. Hi, Mama Bear. This is STILL happening this year? Based on your description, this is exactly the kind of Halloween attraction that NAMI protests nationally--you're not just one person. The US Surgeon General has indicated that stigma is a public health hazard. Tell the director that CNN is considering running a story on the topic and I am going to forward this blog entry to them. (What's the name and location of the clubhouse?) In England, stores (owned by Walmart) have just pulled "mental patient" Halloween costumes. -- Bob Carolla, Director of Media Relations, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).