Sunday, October 29, 2006

This week's column:
So what's the deal with Halloween?

It's time once again for "Mr. Holiday" to answer your holiday queries. This week: Halloween.
Dear Mr. Holiday:
I had planned to dress as a straightjacketed maniac this Halloween, but then I read that the National Alliance on Mental Illness is upset about costumes like this. Should I change my plans?
Going Crazy in Canton
Dear Going:
Absolutely not! Mental health professionals are notoriously touchy, but it shouldn't be a problem as long as we make it a point to be sensitive in the way we portray nut jobs and wackos. It would be a shame to get rid of those types of costumes and attractions altogether, because Halloween is really the only day of the year we have to celebrate raving psychopaths. I mean besides Election Day.
For the rest of this week's AT LARGE by Peter Chianca, click here.


Anonymous said...

"Happy Halloween"

Hello there,

It has been my sense of humor that has helped me at different times in my life cope with my mental illnesses.

However, ruined lives, upset families, homelessness, recurring hospitalizations, suicides, and incarcerations due to mental illnesses (brain disorders) are never humorous or "fun."

I use to think why not just let loose, kick back, and get wild at Halloween and if you want to go ahead and "play dress up like a crazy person." Why not?

That was before I understood how the stigma related to "mental illness" actually keeps people from seeking the help that they so desperately need. It was very difficult for me to receive the right kind of help I needed (and I finally was able to admit I needed to seek help). I have several family members that have severe mental health problems, but will not seek help due to the ugly stigma related to mental illness....and it breaks my heart!

I now support the mental health professionals in fighting the ugly and "dangerous" stigma that is out there in our society THAT KEEPS MILLIONS FROM UNDERSTANING AND SEEKING MENTAL HEALTH HELP.

I am going to share with you a comment I wrote earlier today in answering a person's question about mental illness (very real brain disorders) that I hope will help you understand my position on fighting the stigma against mental illness.

P.S. You can always dress up like the dead for Halloween. I don't think they will be offended. LOL Have a good one - Deborah

Now my other comment: I live everyday with mental illness. I have bipolar disorder, OCD, psychosis, to name a few of my diagnoses. For some reason my brain does not work the way it is suppose to. I am glad you are asking questions.

Having a mental illness is to have a brain that does not work the way I would like it to (due to neurobiological dysfunctions). It is to have a brain that malfunctions, a brain that shorts out and you one have no say to when it is going to happen.

It can be very hard to grasp and hold on to reality. In your "sane" moments you may be able to start to put your life in order, but you don't have the say to when your brain is going to "freak-out" again.

This makes it very hard to get and keep order in your life. You are always having to re-fix everything and constantly trying to do damage control with everyone around you. At some point it can become all too overwhelming, especially if others do not understand and/or you do not have a good support system.

It took me many years to be diagnosed with the right brain disorders and then find the right medications and then the right doses. It was a very long-hard-expensive-journey to start my recovery. I was fortunate to have a support system. That is an exception and not the norm and a realize I have been blessed. With a lot of support I was willing and I saw the doctors, but it still took years to get on the right track.

Trying different medications can be absolutely terrifying because of some of the side effects (I have lost track of how many times I have ended up in emergency due to reactions to medications). Even with the right medications one has to constantly monitor ones brain disorders to keep from relapsing.

It is part of the nature of the illness/disorder that 50% of people with mental illnesses (neurobiological disorders) do NOT realize they are even sick. This makes it very hard for them to know they need to seek help.

When you are hearing voices in your head that tells you to be afraid of everyone it makes it difficult to seek any help. It can happen this way: Again in one's sane moment a sick person may get themselves to a doctor. When the doctor starts talking about treatment (or the weather) if the person's brain starts to tell them the doctor is going to hurt them the visit isn't going to be beneficial.

Any kind of stress will trigger mental illness symptoms. It is the way the brain works. It is the same for people who have other illnesses/disorders. For example people who have diabetes, heart conditions, arthritis, fatigue syndrome, or skin conditions will often have increased symptoms when their stress levels increase. With increased symptoms it can makes it difficult to function. It is even more so for the person with mental illness because it is the brain that is experiencing the increased agitation and dysfunction due to the stress - and then it becomes a vicious circle.

One of the biggest roadblocks to treatment is one can not afford to treat their mental illnesses. Just "one" of my psychotropic medications cost $958.00 a month. I am now on disability and believe it or not it is very difficult for even people with server mental illnesses to be granted disability. Hence they wander the streets or often end up in prison. (Our prisons have become our housing for the mentally ill with statistics showing that at least 50% of inmates are mentally ill. Side note: Now that is a crime!)

I first was diagnosed with just depression in 1979 and put on a simple antidepressant which of didn't help one bit. Antidepressant can actually make bipolar symptoms worse. I went through years of HELL suffering with mental illness due to wrong or incomplete diagnoses and without the right medications and treatment.

Finally around 1996 I started on the right road to recovery and it has been very rocky at best. Finally, ten years later I hope to put together some workshops and educate people about mental illness.

Will I ever be able to get off of disability? Probably not. To be honest, because of the severity of my mental illnesses I can not function at the level of a healthy person. (There are many people who once they are being treated for there mental illness can work and live a normal life.)

Again I will always have to monitor may health to keep from relapsing and even at that there is no guaranty. If I were to go off disability there is no insurance who would take me on and certainly there is no insurance I could afford. (My doctor will not let me go off of disability, because even with my improvement there is always a chance of relapse.)

Another reason people do not get help for themselves and/or their family members who are sick (who have brain disorders) is due to the ugly stigma related to mental illness. Below is a web site that may have helpful information on fighting stigma related to mental illness.

I hope this has helped some. You have a very nice day. Best, Deborah
The US Department of Health & Human Services' Center To Address Stigma and Discrimination (ADS Center) has released a new fact sheet on mental illness and the workplace. The ADS Center's web page states: "SAMHSA's Resource Center to ...
Planet of the Blind -

Anonymous said...

Update from Deborah: I certainly do not want to scare anyone from seeking mental health treatment (even though it is Halloween). I want to make a clarification regarding psychotropic medications.

Today there are what are called "Atypical" psychotropic medications meaning they are not typical of the OLD medications. There are LESS side effects with more benefits found in the new medications than the old medications that I started my journey to mental health.

Also, it is very important to find a doctor that you feel comfortable communicating with so you can contact him/her to ask any questions you need to about your medications and other treatment.

So, be sure to seek mental health treatment if you need it, or if you think can benefit from it. I promise you in the long run it will be worth it.

Now, get out their and have a safe and happy Halloween. What about a 5'11" Winnie the Pooh for Halloween?

Marti said...

Wishing you a Happy Halloween!

Anonymous said...

Smudge said: "To be fair I've never seen someone dress up like a person with an obsessive compulsive disorder or a manic depressive."

Has anyone seen the TV show "Monk?" The character, Monk, has major obsessive compulsive disorder and every time I watch the show it makes me laugh - not at the expense of others though.

Granted, the show is not about Halloween. Hmm, what if someone dressed up as Monk for Halloween and went "trick or treating?" I do not think that would carry the damage that someone who dresses up in a straitjacket and acts like a "crazy" person. It is all about "stigma" and the damage the from the stigma.

I don't want to take away everyones' "fun." I do think it is important to come to a happy (verses depressive) medium. We don't have to take all the scariness out of Halloween, but it is a real serious problem for example to have Halloween Haunted Houses based on insane-asylums. Yes, insane-asylums is a very scary Halloween theme. (Insane-asylums use to be horribly scary and even terrifying, cruel and inhumane.) What is even more scarier are the extreme numbers of people who will not go to a mental health facility this year because of their fear of mental hospitals based on stigma. (Hence, we have almost unbelievable numbers of people who are homeless, incarcerated and who have committed suicide due to their fears... Now that is scary!)

Yes, the psychiatric/medical community does not use the phrases madman or crazy these days. Yes I do agree that it is not specific and not scientific and is an insult not a diagnosis, but the reality is that there are so many in people in our society that still do use these phrases to describe real brain disorders (mental illnesses) and people who are suffering beyond most individuals' understanding.

That is not only scary, but can often be deadly because it keeps people form wanting to seek help for their mental illness symptoms or even seek help for their family members who are sick due to mental illness. The shame can be insurmountable for those having to face mental illness (and it shouldn't be).

So what do we do? I think that Halloween is not only a time to be scary and have fun, but maybe we are also using Halloween to try to deal with our fears of something that is still so misunderstood because of the stigmatism that is continually perpetuated by "Halloween" and many other activities. I have personally heard so many individuals say that I do not need help. That they I are not "crazy" because they do not act like those "weirdos"...

So let's have our fun at Halloween and how do we do that and not have to worry about contributing to someone not seeking help for what can end up being a deadly illness? Suicide in not just a scary theme at Halloween.

I am open to ideas.

Anonymous said...

have a little respect