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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I was Horrified! Mental Patients are Not Monsters!
Becoming an Advocate: The Haunted House Update