Halloween and the stigmatisation of mental illness

It is that time of year again – All Hallows’ Eve.

Halloween is upon us and has been all weekend, it is a celebration, a ritual and a chance to party with friends, adorning costumes and different personas for one night. With the nights drawing in and winter fast approaching it reminds us of the dark and in turn the dead.

However Halloween has become a mass capitalised practice, with shops and establishments enticing you with their decorations and latest gimmicks from the beginning of October. Making plans for this one night affair becomes about popularity and with the addition of social media – a costume contest is held with hashtags and a one-upmanship mentality.

Although this is not the scariest thing about Halloween, in fact the most frighting of attitudes and beliefs come out to play during this festivity and that is the representation of mental illness and the mentally ill. With depictions in horror films, on TV and in literature – as well as costumes depicting “psychiatric patients” or the idea of insanity being cool or glamorised.

As some one who has sever psychiatric conditions and who has had these since being a child, my thoughts on this subject are something I wish to be heard on, hoping that listening to someone who is actually mentally ill, who has been hospitalised in genuine Victorian asylum buildings in the UK, as an inpatient on a psychiatric ward, that in hearing me you will understand that my suffering, trauma, illnesses and identity is not something you get to “have fun with”. You don’t get to put it on for the night and then take it off without hearing me tell you that this is causing me and people like me to be demonised, you continue our persecution and discrimination. Whimsically you step into a piece of clothing which represents people who have been killed for their disabilities, locked away and forgotten about due to their illnesses, and tortured or experimented on because they behave and think differently to the perceived average person.

Having been stigmatised and labelled as dangerous to others, as a person who is violent or unstable – a person to be feared, a monster. I myself, have believed these things to be true, having allowed myself to be shamed into submission, thinking that in fact I am a scary, crazy villain. So I hid from it, allowed myself to be silenced, accepted family and friends stigmatising me with their fancy dress and in their language when watching horror films. Listening to people discuss my situation as frightening, something which scares them so much they can’t watch.

In the depictions of mental illness within horror films and on TV sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself, in a girl who is screaming manically and bashing her head against walls, or rocking herself in a corner or strapped down sedated in a hospital bead. I have lived these experiences, I still do sometimes. The rocking myself is a self soothing, allowing me to keep myself safe.

Yes I have done this in the dark, on a psychiatric ward – yes it was scary.

But not for you! For me!

When experiencing psychotic episodes I have smashed my head repeatedly against walls, on tables anywhere I could. As I rarely remember my psychosis or at least only fragments of it, I can not tell you exactly what I was thinking – but I can guess with almost complete certainty that it was to stop the intrusive images, the voices, the flashbacks, the pain… It was not because I was possessed or dangerous to others it was because of my neurological damage due to early childhood trauma. Which again is not scary in the spooky horror sense when explained, it is in fact a medical condition and symptoms.

Being in a psychiatric hospital is not a horror fest or a sensationalised attraction to experience. It is like any other medical facility, it is there to treat people with illnesses in a focused in-patient manner. Yes the Victorian buildings were scary and yes me and my in-patient friends would tell ghost stories and scare ourselves whilst walking through the abandoned buildings and grounds – but we didn’t think we were the monsters, we knew we were thought of this way by the outside world.

(West Park Hospital in Epsom is where I was an in-patient for 6 months in 1999)

However we had seen real horror, most of us having survived childhood molestation, violence, and emotional abuse. We knew we were only really a danger to ourselves, hacking away at our own flesh daily, burning ourselves with lighters, putting ourselves in danger as vulnerable people, not eating, taking substances to excess and attempting to kill ourselves often. We were the scariest thing around – to ourselves, but are we really people to be feared? No – we are people who have been vilified in order to hide the realities of true horror, which happens everyday in plain sight, by people you know, people you forgive and people who you look up to. Our ideas disturb the status quo and our sadness gets in the way of the idealistic idea of living a happy life. We make you uncomfortable – because deep down you know we are not different, that you could become ill or have a breakdown. Your neurology is not bullet-proof. We are not made of weaker stuff.

So I ask you to think about the depiction of mentally ill people at Halloween, I ask you to challenge your thoughts on what we look like, act like, or are capable of. Think of the backstory of a character and realise just how un-scary someones emotional distress, neurological condition or neuro-divergent ideas are in context. Think how you may make someone you know feel – who has mental illness, when you dress up as a deranged “psychopath”. Don’t contribute to this stereotype and the discrimination it allows to continue.

(These images are of graffiti myself and other in patients did in abandoned rooms during our stay at Woodside adolescent unit at West Park Hospital in Epsom, England in the summer of 1999 – during art therapy sessions. These photographs have been taken by people who site these as disturbing images of “crazy”impatient scribbling. I see them and remember letting out our pain, me and my best friend Jenny (who took her own life years later), of us together – expressing ourselves through art, this is NOT a horror movie scene or anything sinister.)

My open letter to MIND – The mental health charity; Dear Mind, please help me!

Dear Mind,
 
my name is Charlotte Farhan and I suffer from C-PTSD, BPD and Psychotic Depression, from these illnesses I then suffer as symptoms other illnesses such as derealisation, agoraphobia, OCD, GAD, BDD and adult ADHD.
 
I have been in the mental health system since I was 12 and I have had many issues with malpractice, abusive care, neglect and unprofessional dangerous physicians treat me.
 
I have been told a few times and only just recently there is nothing they can do for me anymore, I am too severe and complex?
 
I have not been out alone for over 9 years and am housebound most days, I have no earning possibilities (however I am an artist and I run a non-profit with the help of others – this keeps me having a purpose) I have no family and my husband is left caring for me and is on minimum wage, I have no benefits as I can’t use the phone due to my illnesses (paranoia of being bugged) so can not get the forms, the forms hurt my brain so even if I had them I can’t fill them out without support.
 
I also have diabetes, chronic erythema nodosum and PCOS, which due to my mental illnesses I can not access any care for these. I can’t go to the surgery on my own when my husband is at work, it is closed by the time he returns, sometimes I wouldn’t be able to go at all I as I can’t always go outside, once a week is normally what I achieve but a lot of planning goes into this. And was told by my GP that I can not get home care as mental illness is not considered within this context. So I am left to die. No bloods being taken, no diabetic checks, no check ups on my chronic erythema nodosum which is getting worse, no care or rights for my PCOS so no care of rights for my fertility.
 
I am at home trying to survive hourly, I do not know how much longer we can live like this?
 
I am a very strong person, as I have had to be, but really I am not at all. Everyday I fight for mental health rights, so that I may one day be able to change this for me and others like me, which there are so many!!
 
I am asking your for help? I need you to help me get my voice heard so that I do not lose my battle, so that my husband does not have to carry this on his shoulders alone, so that all the people I have spoken to who are in my situation are heard.
We have no rights, neurotypical privilege is everywhere, we can’t survive without your help.
 
I have been struggling since I was an infant, I am a survivor of child sexual abuse, sexual violence as a teenager and sexual assault (which was in an adolescent unit) and both my parents have severe mental illness too, who I do not speak to due to their emotional and physical abuse, Mother with Bipolar 1 with mixed states and BPD and a Father with alcoholism and then alcohol induced psychosis, they have been in and out of psychiatric hospitals when I was a child. I was even left alone at 12 for many months whilst my mother was in a psychiatric ward, that was due to the fact she went private so social services were not alerted.
 
Please read this blog post and please let me know if I can share my story further? Maybe someone will help me? Maybe I will be able to live a better life or more managed life? Help me have the same rights as others!

Why is Severe Mental Illness left untreated in the NHS Mental Health Services:

 
I am desperate so have nothing to lose!
I hope to hear from you.
Thank you for your time xxx