Halloween and Mental Health: How the Holiday Adds to Stigma

Learn how Halloween and mental health depictions perpetuate the stigma of mental illness, and what you can do to promote inclusivity this Halloween.


Photo by David Menidrey on Unsplash


It’s no secret that mental illness is stigmatized in our society, and is amplified during Halloween with frightening images of abandoned insane asylums, escaped psychopaths, and deranged killer clowns. All these depictions have one thing in common: depicting those who struggle with mental health disorders as dangerous, violent, and scary.


It’s time to set the record straight on Halloween and mental health, decrease the stigmatization of those afflicted and learn how we can best support our loved ones as they cope with adverse mental health labels and stereotypes during Halloween.


Mental Health and Stigma


According to the NIH, approximately 52.9 million Americans live with mental illness. You or someone you know is likely living with mental illness, and a stigma related to that condition probably exists.


Stigma is when we disapprove or assign shame to an individual or group. People who live with mental illness experience stigma from themselves and others, and the U.S. Surgeon General reports that stigma is frequently the most significant barrier to seeking mental health treatment.


How Halloween and Mental Health Add to Stigma

When you’re out shopping for this year's Halloween costume, look around — you'll see displays of mental illness you’ve probably never noticed before. Costumes and decorations depicting escaped mental patients, psychopathic serial killers, and zombies clad in straitjackets line the shelves. These are stereotypes that portray people who are mentally ill as terrifying, violent, and ghoulish creatures.


People with mental illness are often assumed to be fundamentally aggressive and agitated. Even though studies have shown that those with mental conditions, such as schizophrenia, are much more likely to harm themselves than others, the stereotype that they are inherently homicidal and violent persists.


How Halloween and Mental Health Stigma Affects Vulnerable People


Halloween and mental health stigma triggered by depictions of mental illness create adverse emotional, social, and psychological effects on people with mental health concerns.


Living with psychiatric illness can be frightening for anyone who has ever received that diagnosis. If they’ve spent time in an inpatient psychiatric setting, received outpatient services, or taken medication for their disease, seeing these real-life scenarios contrived into caricatures meant to elicit fear and terror can induce feelings of shame, disgrace, and embarrassment.

Halloween and mental health stigma goes beyond hurt feelings. The perpetuation of harmful stereotypes and tropes can lead to social isolation and discrimination. Imagine if you had an incurable disease and were consequently denied employment opportunities, safe and affordable housing, and equal access to healthcare.


Take that scenario and now imagine that every year there was a holiday dedicated to amplifying the worst and most inaccurate assumptions about your disease because society has normalized these myths. This discriminatory practice is the reality for over 50 million Americans with mental illness.


Halloween and Mental Health Stigma can be Reduced


There are solutions for increasing the quality of life for those affected by negative Halloween depictions of mental health disorders.


Boycott Halloween Costumes and Imagery that Depict Mental Illness

A small yet effective way you can help decrease the stigma of mental health disorders during Halloween is by refusing to purchase Halloween costumes that depict people with mental illness as violent beings.

You can also pass on attending haunted houses that share a likeness with insane asylums or perpetuate a notion that psychiatric patients are scary and should be demonized.


Raise Awareness about Halloween and Mental Health

Share what you’ve learned about the detrimental effects of Halloween depictions and mental illness with your friends, colleagues, and family. Knowledge empowers people to exercise positive decision-making and increases sensitivity towards vulnerable members of our population.

Take this as an opportunity to lead by example. This year, talk to your children about Halloween and mental health stigmatization. Explain how negative stereotyping harms the self-esteem and dignity of people who live with mental illness. So, the costume of the escaped psychopath from the insane asylum is not one you are willing to buy for them. Decide to dress up as something more positive as a family instead.


Celebrate Our Differences and Aim for a More Inclusive Society

Celebrating our differences creates a more inclusive, tolerant, and understanding world. There are millions of Americans who live with mental illness that suffer through Halloween depictions of their struggle every year. This indignity creates barriers to seeking mental health treatment, encouraging participation in the community, and forging connections with others.


Every human being is unique and worthy of love, acceptance, and tolerance. When we commit to celebrating diversity, we actively decrease the stigma and shame of mental illness.


Reduce Mental Health Stigma and Keep Halloween Fun


Mental health disorders are frequently shrouded in shame, embarrassment, and disapproval. The stigma that follows people who live with mental health challenges is amplified during Halloween through violent depictions meant to cause fright and terror in people.


Halloween depictions of mental health disorders create social isolation through the perpetuation of negative stereotypes, tropes, and assumptions that serve to discriminate and sideline members of our community.

By sharing knowledge on Halloween and mental health stigmatization, boycotting vendors that participate in harmful imagery, and leading by example with our friends, families, and colleagues, we can work to make our society a more inclusive, safe, and tolerant place to live.