With the onset of the Halloween season, many students will be going to the local haunted attraction. Year after year at these “haunted” establishments there has been a haunted house that actively participates in perpetuating false and hurtful stigmas regarding those who experience mental illness.
Currently, I am an intern in the administrative office of Lancaster County Department of Mental Health/Mental Retardation/Early Intervention (MHMREI). Our focus is largely on advocating for the needs and rights of members of the Lancaster community. I spend much of my time advocating for the needs of the homeless community in Lancaster, and mental health is a large part of that. Many people who experience homelessness also experience some form of mental illness, and the stigmas that these haunted attractions perpetuate only increase their struggles in doing things like finding housing, finding work, and functioning normally as an equal member of society.
The management at some of these amusements have been contacted by consumers and Mental Health America of Lancaster County, a national agency dedicated to advocating the rights of those experiencing mental illness. MHMREI developed an advocacy group dedicated to raising awareness about the negative and false stigmas surrounding the “Frightmare Asylum.”
This advocacy group contains members from mental health agencies across Lancaster County, including ICAN in Lancaster, NAMI PA, and Mental Health America of Lancaster County.
The advocacy group hopes to convince the Field of Screams owners to change their “Frightmare Asylum” attraction to something that does not demonize, dehumanize, or devalue any member of society.
“Demented”, “deranged”, and “lunatic” are a few words used to describe the people depicted in the asylum on the website. These words are not only hurtful to those experiencing mental illness, but it also sheds a negative and false light on these individuals. One that effects how society views them and upsets those who know people suffering from mental illness.
Mental illness affects one in four adults and one in 10 children in our community, and it’s no different than a physical illness. It is not likely that anyone would find it acceptable to have a haunted attraction with cancer patients, cerebral palsy victims, or those suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease as monstrous, demonic, and dangerous. It is disheartening that people think it is acceptable to have an establishment that depicts people with mental illnesses as such.
The “Frightmare Asylum” isn’t the only perpetrator of negative stereotypes of this kind.
In 2007, a Texas drama club drew fire over a similar production in which patients in the asylum were portrayed receiving electroshock therapy.
There was concern that this production would build upon and present hurtful stereotypes of those with mental illness.
Actors portraying the patients defended themselves and the group by saying that they did not portray a particular disease but instead acted like criminals.
They did admit that they were technically “mocking the insane people, but we’re doing this for fun. It’s Halloween.”
I have heard many people claim that attractions such as “Frightmare Asylum” are just for fun and that in the larger scheme of things they do not truly hurt anyone.
I urge the individuals who feel this way to consider the issue from the point of view of someone who is experiencing mental illness. Being depicted as demonic, deranged, and monstrous for something that is beyond a person’s control, which also goes the same for physical illness, can be detrimental to a person’s self esteem and self worth.
It makes you less willing to open up to others about your experience with mental illness because you are afraid people will see you as less than a human being. The individuals who are stigmatized by this attraction deal with these effects everyday.
For those looking for a scared during the Halloween season, I encourage you to visit other haunted attractions that do not demonize, dehumanize, or devalue members of our society.