Bedlam Over Halloween

To continue…the people to which I am referring when I use the term “mentally ill”, are people whose illnesses range from mild to severe, who are not violent but may be suffering from hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia.

They are portrayed in haunted attractions and stores that sell Halloween décor/costumes as dangerous and scary.

That, to me, is deeply offensive.

Case in point: An online catalogue of Halloween stuff has a ‘prop’ called “Demented Halloween Animated Prop” that sits and rocks back and forth. That’s it. The description states

“She’s had a lobotomy and is as crazy as ever. Slowly rocks back and forth.” (Creepy Collections, 2014).

(I hesitated about including links to these but I wanted people to see what they looked like.)

Then there’s the “Psycho Sam” prop* from K-Mart:

“You say Psycho like it’s a bad thing! Foam-filled latex Psycho Sam has a steel armature and rocks slowly back and forth, maniacally talking to you and to the voices in his head.”

Or how about this one, the one that really bothers me – not that the others don’t, but this one, particularly so:

“Spruce up your house for Halloween, with the Maniac Prop with Creepy Motion. This piece will chew on its arm when people pass by, giving them quite a scare.” (Halloween Adventure website, 2014)

Nothing “spruces up your house” like somebody who is so tormented they are biting their own arm until it bleeds.

If people look at these 3 props and only feel scared, I don’t know if that reaction makes me angry, or dismayed.  When I see things like this, I feel sad.  Sad, because I have worked in psych wards and have seen people behave like this when they are in the grip of a psychotic break.

*Note: No psych ward that I have ever worked in had straightjackets, performed lobotomies, or used muzzles on people. But, trust me, before the 1960s things like this, and worse, were done to people in psych hospitals and these are the images that stick in peoples’ minds. Nowadays they just put ‘troublesome’ people in buckled restraints, strap them to a bed, and medicate them with anti-psychotics to calm them down (actually, it’s more like, ‘act calm or we won’t unbuckle you’).

So the notion that people who hear voices, self-harm, cringe in corners and/or rock back and forth are scary really pisses me off.  In fact, mental health ‘professionals’ are not exempt from this ridiculous fear – I have talked with other therapists who expressed…well…horror at the thought of working with “those people”.

But think about it for a minute. What if you felt really depressed, had voices in your head telling you how bad and evil you are, and couldn’t think over those voices to even articulate a single idea to someone else? (Like, “I have voices in my head, please help me.”)

Might you, too, rock back and forth to try to self-soothe? Might you bite your arm to shut the voices up, because you guess you really are bad, like they tell you constantly? Might you say, out loud, “shut up already!” while you clutch your head in dismay?

Think about times when you have had, maybe in the course of a heated argument, someone nag you and yell at you and insult you, for hours on end it seems…that’s really annoying, to say the least, isn’t it?

Now imagine that, no matter where you go, that person is right there beside you, nagging and yelling and insulting – all day and all night, so that you can’t sleep or even think.  Non-stop, without even taking a breath.

That’s what auditory hallucinations are like.  Day in and day out, sometimes for years. Wouldn’t it frighten you?  How “normal” do you think you would seem to other people then?

Are you not capable of even imagining what it must be like for people like this? Or maybe you just don’t want to, because it’s too frightening to think YOU might ever have this happen to you, or have it happen to a loved one?

Another side note: Psychosis doesn’t care what class, race, age, gender, or nationality you are.  Put someone under enough unbearable stress, and they can snap (hence the phrase “nervous breakdown”).  Or maybe they were born with a genetic predisposition – maybe YOU were born with one…do you know for sure you weren’t?  There’s no test for it, you know.

Unless someone is a cocaine addict, people don’t “cause” their psychosis any more than someone “causes” their case of multiple sclerosis or other physical disease.  It’s usually a case of genetics and environment.  So don’t be so smug.  It could happen to you, too.

Back to the rant…In my experience, the scariest aspect of mental illness is the treatment patients/clients receive, not the people with mental illnesses themselves.  The patients are the scared ones, not the staff.

I have worked in hospitals where the aides were borderline abusive, taunted patients, made fun of them, or even stole from them (yes, I did report all of it, and, no, most of it was swept under the rug due to the politics of the South – where these things occurred – and was not addressed except to terminate me for causing trouble).

I have seen nurses – who should damn well know better – medicate patients so they could get paperwork done, or just so they didn’t have to deal with the patient’s issues because they didn’t feel like it.  That work takes a kind and accepting heart, and not all nurses have that.

I have seen psychiatrists admit people to hospital who were not psychotic, but whose admission paperwork said they were, because of pressure from family members who were tired of dealing with their ‘sick’ relative (read this as, “elderly”, “mentally challenged”, “autistic”, or just a plain ol’ defiant teenager).

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