Trick-or-Treat: Raising Awareness for Mental Health
Fall is here, the season is changing, and Halloween and Día de los Muertos are around the corner. Costumes, decorations, trick-or-treating and festivities are all part of this flamboyant duo of fall holidays. While you are sipping cider and carving pumpkins, below are some thoughts to consider.
Masks allow us to slip into another persona and gently “trick” our friends and loved ones that we are something or someone different. Many people wear masks all the time in order to avoid upsetting or burdening those around them. They may want to hide that they are having mental health challenges behind the mask of a carefree personality, assurances that everything is fine, and posts on social media that might tell a different story from the one they feel inside. Pain isn’t always obvious, however if you know the signs that someone might be in trouble, you may be able to see what is behind the mask. It can be difficult to do, but if you feel something isn’t right, or you see warning signs of suicide, talk directly to the person you are concerned about.
Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)
This traditional celebration in Latin America but strongly associated with Mexico is an opportunity to remember and honor loved ones who are deceased. Although Día de los Muertos images center around skeletons and skulls, celebrations tend to be festive, engaging in all the activities that the loved one enjoyed in life. Many communities throughout California have festivals or parades and host altars upon which objects are placed to remember the lost loved ones. Those who have lost someone to suicide might find this a good opportunity to memorialize the person in a positive way. This website lists a few of the larger events, but check locally to see if your community is hosting one.
We all have a role in creating more welcoming environments where people can get the support they need. Part of reducing barriers for people who might need help is being aware of things we do or say that could contribute to feelings of stigma, or to the pain felt by a survivor of suicide loss. Unfortunately, during Halloween it is not uncommon to see costumes or decorations that play off mental illness or gory images. For those struggling with a mental illness, trauma, or who have lost a loved one to suicide, such depictions can cause undue pain. If you see such a display in a public place, you might kindly raise awareness about its possible effects and encourage showing different images. If you are accompanying a child or youth, this could be an opportunity to start a conversation. You can also consider joining mental health advocates and sign the petition to ask retailers to remove costumes that depict people with mental illness.
For more useful ways to share your concerns about Halloween displays and costumes that perpetuate stigmatizing, offensive stereotypes of people living with mental illness click here.