Norman Lamb warns against demonising people with mental ill health at Hallowe’en

We’ve always had great fun at Hallowe’en in our house. We love the guisers (none of this new fangled Trick or Treat stuff, if you please). My husband loves carving the pumpkin even if he isn’t as elaborate as some. My Facebook timeline has been full of everything from Pumpkin Daleks to the delicious irony of an actual Cinderella carriage. I have some very creative friends.

The Teenager is spending Hallowe’en with her friends and will be headed out in vampire dress leaving us to greet the scores of little devils, ghouls, zombies, fairies, princesses, ghosts and animals who will come seeking tooth-rotting treats.

There comes a point where things go too far, though, and perpetuate damaging stereotypes. Last year several retailers had to withdraw costumes which depicted people with mental health conditions in scary fashion. You have to wonder how on earth these things got to the shelf in the first place. A concept like that involves a lot of people from the manufacturer to the buyer to the staff in the shops seeing it first. Perhaps the fact that nobody stopped it is indicative of the power of these prejudices and stereotypes.

Liberal Democrat Health Minister Norman Lamb recognises this and says so in a speech today as the Lancashire Evening Post reports:

Mr Lamb is due to tell the conference: “For me it is horrendous that, this Halloween, a young person experiencing a mental health crisis could easily come across someone in a ‘psycho ward’ or ‘schizo patient’ costume – complete with handcuffs and ripped restraints – as much as they could see someone in a Dracula costume.

This Halloween culture is dangerous. It conditions all of us to fear mental illness – to see people as ‘psychos’, or ‘schizos’ or ‘freaks’. It makes us believe that mental illness is something other worldly.

We have to tackle this damaging stigma which prevents young people from seeking help when they need it, or talking about any problems they might be having.

Everyone should be able to enjoy Halloween but I urge all retailers to behave more responsibly – don’t demonise mental illness.

Norman is right to say so. There are also some pretty questionable costumes that reinforce other prejudices and very practical reasons why they should be challenged. I quite like the idea of a Calgary group of feminists taking back Hallowe’en. The organiser told CBC in Canada:

Really the event is going tot be so much fun…. We’ll have puppets, songs, stage fighting, imagining a future of feminist Disney princesses — so there is something for everybody. Awareness doesn’t have to be a drag and that’s really important to us, so we want it to be an exciting night for people.

There will also be a patriarchy haunted house that highlights some gender issues in a fun scary way.

What’s scarier than the gender gap, you know? I’m missing out on 26 cents an hour,” said Rocker.

The politicians that maybe aren’t the biggest fans of equality may jump out at you at any moment.

We at LDV are looking forward to celebrating Hallowe’en with our readers. Please feel free to tweet us your photos of pumpkins or costumes or email them to [email protected] and we’ll share the best and funniest. We hope you all have a great time.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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5 Comments

  • I was in Toys R Us the other day and came upon a Titanic model and thought “hang on a minute, having family fun making a replica scaled model of a ship that sank killing lots (not to mention the whole class inequality of those deaths) seems a bit insensitive.”…………..for a party of freedom we do seem to swing towards supporting a nanny state at times. Shall we include a list of approved Halloween costumes on our manifesto to spare Asda’s blushes in future years.

  • Eddie Sammon 31st Oct '14 - 2:31pm

    Yes Norman Lamb is probably right to criticise those halloween outfits. Although, people can take offence at everything.

    However, the statement “What’s scarier than the gender gap, you know? I’m missing out on 26 cents an hour.” has plenty of counter arguments, which I am not going to state here. The pay gap might be “too big”, but there are good arguments that it doesn’t necessarily mean oppression.

    There is a cost every time someone makes an argument for “gender sameness”. I don’t think it deserves to be called equality. There are already women saying men trying to achieve 50-50 equality everywhere are putting pressure on women and contributing to the “new oppression”. Our own Helen Tedcastle made a similar argument along these lines, but I don’t want to put words into her mouth.

  • Stevan Rose 31st Oct '14 - 3:31pm

    We should ban dracula fake teeth as this is offensive to those with dental problems and Frankenstein costumes are offensive to transplant patients and those with visible scars and deformities. Thinking ahead can we please remove reference to Jesus from Christmas as it offends my atheist beliefs.

    Apart from this being an old story revived for no apparent reason, when it first came up I recall thinking actually, like millions of others, I would fall into the category of people who have had mental health issues at some point in my life. I’ve been under the care of a psychiatrist and some brilliant CPNs for a period when younger and I sought help. I am not offended in the least; it never occurred to me to be offended until some do-gooder decided I should be. The existence of people dressed in restraints every 31 October would have zero effect on my seeking help. This is patent nonsense with no proper evidence to prove it is a real issue. I wish people would stop inventing non-existent problems to campaign about and “solve”. I find it personally patronising, even offensive, to suggest I would be offended.

  • Helen Tedcastle 31st Oct '14 - 3:44pm

    Am I the only one who thinks this Hallowe’en ‘trick or treating’ has got out of hand? When I was a lass you would be lucky to play bobbing apples or dress up as a witch only to be cheerfully ignored as you walked around the streets.

  • Stephen Donnelly 1st Nov '14 - 12:40pm

    I question whether there is a role for government to play here.

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