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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Be sensitive to mental health stigma this Halloween


What makes someone smile can be hurtful, especially during Halloween season when people dress up in all kinds of outfits.
Halloween costumes that portray “psych ward patients” or “mental patients” in a straightjacket are insensitive to people with mental illness, said Mike Vizena, executive director of the Michigan Association of Mental Health Boards.
Few people, he said, would think it appropriate to dress up as an individual affected by AIDS or cancer, he said. Dressing up or partaking in events that poke fun at people with mental illness are just as insensitive, Vizena added.
An estimated 43.7 million adults 18 and older are living with a mental illness in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In addition, nearly every person you meet is touched by mental illness, whether in his or her own life or someone they care about.
The NIMH also said one in five children experience a serious debilitating mental disorder at one time in their life.
The problem is that the stigma associated with the disability can keep someone with mental illness from getting the help they need. If the costume you had in mind to wear or the haunted house you planned on attending could be offensive to those who have mental illness, think twice before taking part, Vizena said.
Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence, advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at 586 263 8750.

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