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The Scariest Part of Halloween

Today is Halloween which means you may have been indulging in a horror movie marathon this weekend. Whether you watched Psycho, The Shining, Nightmare on Elm Street, or another spooky classic, if you took a moment away from being terrified to think about what seems to be a common theme among movies of this kind you might have thought: Wow, the scariest, most violent characters are always portrayed as mentally ill. You’ll see this theme throughout the most popular Halloween activities – costumes, haunted houses, and mazes.

What’s truly scary though, is that it’s socially acceptable to take a serious medical condition and to make an extreme and inaccurate generalization about an entire group of people. Fighting stigma is difficult enough, but when a holiday that is revered by children and adults alike promotes these harmful stereotypes, you’re sending a message to everyone that people who live with a mental illness are to be feared.

Statistics tell us a completely different story. The melodrama of these movies doesn’t pan out. Data from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website tells us that the vast majority of individuals living with mental health conditions are no more likely to be violent than their counterparts who do not have a mental illness. This is where it gets very disturbing: People with severe mental illnesses are actually over 10 times more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the general population.

This misinformation, fed to us in the form of entertainment, is setting us back. It’s taking away from the great work many individuals and organizations are doing to educate and inform the public, and to get those in need to seek help from a professional. Public opinion matters, and right now about half of Americans equate the mentally ill with violence. How much more likely would you be to come forward about mental health symptoms you were experiencing if you knew that the general public were more accepting and were not fearful of mental illness as a whole?

You can start changing this stereotype by being a voice for positive mental health. If you’re a parent, make time to talk to your kids about mental health this halloween. If you’re dressing up, make sure you’re not indulging in this stereotype. If you see a friend struggling, reach out and have an important conversation with them. Change can start with you, and it can start today.