Scary Stereotypes: Stopping Harmful Halloween Costumes

For many people, the month of October means carving pumpkins, enjoying the fall foliage and planning Halloween costumes. It’s a fun and creative time of year when wearing a T-Rex costume is not only socially acceptable, but applauded.


However, for those with mental health needs, Halloween can also mean a time when offensive stereotypes are portrayed as scary entertainment for haunted house visitors. This year, we’ve seen some of these attractions try to avoid backlash by claiming the attractions aren’t meant to be mental health-related.

The inaccurate depiction of anyone with a mental health condition as violent can make it harder for people to seek the services and supports that lead to recovery. Such representations not only reinforce misperceptions about living with a mental illness, but also dehumanize those who do.

As communicators working on behavioral health campaigns, we’ve seen how important it is to have a people-first mentality. Here are a few reminders to help avoid trivializing mental health conditions this Halloween:

1. Remember that mental illness is not a choice. Despite the fact that asylum attractions have become a widely accepted Halloween theme, commercializing mental health needs isn’t any less offensive than dressing up in racial or ethnic stereotype costumes — or making fun of a person’s traumatic incident.

2. Educate yourself and others. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults experience mental illness. By increasing awareness and understanding, you can prevent misperceptions from clouding your judgement of others.

3. Practice respectful language. For many, it’s become common to use phrases like “That’s so OCD,” or “I’m so depressed, I want to kill myself,” but mental health conditions shouldn’t be joked about. Downplaying their effects only continues misunderstanding.

As we approach Halloween, let’s do so with a people-first attitude — one that limits scary to skeletons, not stereotypes. On behalf of Vanguard, happy trick-or-treating!