STOP trivializing mental illness!!

7 min read

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Aeirmid's avatar

Halloween-related exploitation has got to stop.

I am almost never on DA anymore; I sign in to support a few friends, and that's it. But with all the Halloween festivities going around, I keep seeing something that's really bothering me, so, fuck it, I'm going to tell you about it. (And please note this blog is targeted at NO ONE in particular.)

We, as a DA community, must stop using mental illness as a way to entertain ourselves on Halloween (and at any time, for that matter).

Let's differentiate between TALKING about mental illness and EXPLOITING mental illness.

I understand that many of us, myself included, have addressed suicidality or some mood disorder at some point in our work. Exploring the darker nature of ourselves and the fragility of humanity is one thing. But, when you glorify mental illness, reveling in the "insane" for how "scary" and "murderous" they are, you are propagating a stereotype that is actually HARMFUL to people who live with mental illness.

Why is it harmful to promote stigma?

"Stigma" refers to a stereotype, reputation, or label people get just because they live with mental illness and happens independently of their own actions. It is very difficult to live in a world where most people (1) are afraid you are going to "snap" and possibly hurt them, (2) think of you as less capable than they are, (3) don't trust you, (4) don't make any attempt to understand you because you are "weird" and "different," and (5) say horrible things about you, using words like "crazy," "unhinged," "unstable," and "insane" loosely to refer to people who live with your condition. 

These are the people I advocate for on a daily basis, the people I dedicate my life and career to helping-- and they are the people you are hurting with your cheap jokes and Halloween gimmicks.

How does YOUR contributing to stigma hurt people living with mental illness? Here's how:

1. Stigma is often internalized. That means, when you treat them with ridicule, fear, disdain, or some other harmful vibe (even if you never interact with them directly), people will internalize that and feel the same shame, fear, and disdain toward themselves. If society tells us we're bad, we assume we're bad. Can you imagine going through life thinking you are meaningless because that's what your brain disease tells you, only to have that negative thought validated by society?

2. Stigma makes it difficult to seek care because you are afraid you'll be judged or get a "label." If everyone thinks people who hear voices are maniacal killers, for example, I am NOT about to go get a label that says I'm a maniacal killer! And so I may go without treatment, which makes me even sicker. I may lose my job, my health, my family, my friends, etc. because of untreated mental illness. Painting people with psychosis as maniacal killers in our little Halloween haunted houses, art groups, etc., creates a stigma that can prevent care-seeking.

3. Stigma isolates people. What's ironic about that is that AT LEAST 1 out of every 4 of us (25% or more) will have mental illness at some point during our lives. 

4. Hey, does any of this sound like harassment or even bullying? Except it's not necessarily done to the person, but rather ABOUT the person or even about the environment itself.

Oh no, she didn't!

DA is supposed to be a relatively safe space, and yet these groups and actions are allowed. I mean, why not, if extreme sexual content is allowed, right? But porn extreme sexual content doesn't SYSTEMATICALLY harm a single, VULNERABLE group of DA SUBSCRIBERS (actually, it harms young users, but at least they have the mature content filter). By targeting, either on purpose or coincidence, a specific group of vulnerable people--those who live with mental illnesses--these "communities" and "artists" are marginalizing us. Would you marginalize racial minorities? Religious minorities? Sexual minorities? No-- that's against DA policy. So why is it OK to do so to people living with mental illness?

So, dark art? Fine. I LOVE dark art. Art that challenges the psyche? Love it. BRING IT! And I get that we have a right to freedom of expression. For some people, creating art and imagery, or writing content, that depicts what it's like to be in the hell we call mental illness is freeing and cathartic. I am totally down with this, and this expression is welcome at mental-health

My problem arises when people glorify "insanity" or paint people with mental illness as creatures to be feared and loathed. I wouldn't paint a Black man as fearful and murderous. I would never paint a Muslim as fearful and murderous. And would you ever paint something derogatory about someone who uses a wheelchair?? Why would you do that to someone with mental health challenges? It's a biological fucking condition, like cancer or diabetes.

EDIT: Also, research from and The National Institute of Mental Health shows that people with mental health conditions are more likely to hurt themselves than they are to hurt you. Moreover, even when people are psychotic, by a vast majority, people with mental illness are more likely to be violent toward themselves than to be violent toward others. They are more likely to be VICTIMS of violence than to commit acts of violence. (thank you, neurotype!)

I'm not being super sensitive. I'm no snowflake. I'm not saying that I "can't be made uncomfortable." It's not about being made uncomfortable. It's not even about being politically correct. It's about people having basic human rights.

So, just stop. Dark art, fine. Sharing experiences, fine. Raising awareness, fine. Using mental illness for entertainment value? SO NOT OKAY. 

Have a fun and RESPONSIBLE Halloween. Remember that Halloween-HQ has a game going on, and it doesn't involve "crazy" or "insane" people. :P :pumpkin:

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Lily-Lucid's avatar
I agree. Things like the "locked in a padded cell, laughing maniacally with blood all over the walls" cliche is getting super old and it's super inaccurate and insulting. >,,>
exarobibliologist's avatar
Excellent!! :clap: :jumpingjacks: clap remake 1b Hyper Clap 
phydeau's avatar
I would say spot-on.  You're supposed to dress as something you're not on Halloween.  That's the exact point.  What you shouldn't do is insult.  Dressing as a sexy nurse isn't an insult.  Nurses are actually often seen as the bad guys in medical care, because they often hare to do the unfortunate stuff.  I won't get into it, but anyone who has encountered a nurse, you'll usually leave with an apology.

Sexy nurse is fine.  Dressing up in blackface (even with the best intentions, as an 8-year-old boy did a few years ago trying to be Reverend Doctor Marin Luther King, Jr.) is inappropriate.

Be not yourself, this Halloween.  But keep your brain on.
exarobibliologist's avatar
Aeirmid's avatar
I wish we could "Like" on DA. Really nice way of putting it.
DamaiMikaz's avatar
I honestly have mixed feelings about all of this. You make a valid point, but it's a gliding scale and I feel it's hard to draw a solid line between what's good and what's bad. The thing is that 'mental illness' is a very broad spectrum that includes  people with anxiety that won't hurt anyone and will most likely avoid human contact, but also includes psychopaths and narcissist that do tend to hurt people. The difference between the first and the latter being that the first group tends to suffer from their illness, whereas people in the latter group tend to have poor insight in their psyche and most likely make other people suffer. 

I feel like most of over the top art you say is "glorifying mental illness" is either vent art or bad writing. Especially things like the creepypasta fandom are guilty of the latter. They're concepts that could work, if not for the lack of a solid backstory (people don't just 'become' insane)  the over-exaggerated crime scenes (things like that would get them caught pretty soon irl) and the over-exaggerated lockups (mental institutions don't work that way anymore. At least not in this time). But in that case it's not just the mental illness that's written badly, but the story in its entirety. 
Aeirmid's avatar
You're right-- a lot of it is about bad storytelling. But it's contributing to stigma.

I'm not saying that we should stop all dark/murder/suicide/"crazy people" art. It's totally a gradient, not a yes/no. I'm saying to be mindful of the message and how we're casting people who live with mental illness.  
Ellyevans679's avatar
You make a very, very valid point and good on you Jade for being brave enough to bring it up. Well said-you write beautifully.
I haven't seen any of these artworks myself but like you am not here much at all anymore, just been popping by last couple of weeks. 
Take care
:heart: Elle
neurotype's avatar
Also, let's be clear that people with mental illness are more likely to harm themselves or be harmed by others. It's backwards stereotyping.
Aeirmid's avatar
Super important. Thanks-- I'll add that in.
CapnDeek373's avatar
I don't know if there's anything in my gallery or not that could be seen as this.
I wouldn't mind if you took a look through and send me a note about it if you see something questionable. :ahoy:
Aeirmid's avatar
You are sweet, and I love your gallery. I won't post an example of what I'm talking about, but it's stuff like people hanging themselves, people in padded cells acting "crazy" with blood everywhere, etc.
LindArtz's avatar
As someone who suffers with clinical depression... I just wonder if, maybe, some folks who paint stuff like "hanging people", "people in padded cells with blood all over the walls" and "acting crazy" etc...if maybe it's possible they could be psychopaths, and use art as an outlet for their thoughts,rage/urges; rather than act on them.  Perhaps even at the suggestion of a psychiatrist? Much in the same way children are encouraged to express troubling feelings through art?  It's my understanding that the majority of psychopaths don't go out murdering people (although they are more than capable under the right conditions; but otherwise choose to live...'normally'.

I am of the mind that people who dwell on these kinds of thoughts,...know there is something wrong. with them. mentally.  But they need to get it out of their system.   As disturbing as it may be for us, it's a form of self expression; no matter how you slice it. And I think in more cases than not, self-therapy.
Now if we take these same scenarios, have these people in real life ridicule people openly; openly express a desire to hurt; laugh in the faces of others while encouraging suicide; then, you've got a real problem.

What do you think? ... Just tossing thoughts around...
CapnDeek373's avatar
I hear ya! Thanks for that! :ahoy:
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