Psychiatric Unit Themed Halloween Parties And Why They Are Always A Bad Idea

So tomorrow is Halloween, and though not exactly my favourite holiday as I may have mentioned in my Halloween themed post last year (…ahem…Why Halloween Can Be Difficult For People With Mental Health Problems…) it is a time that a lot of people celebrate and get rather excited about. Some even have Halloween parties with houses decorated to fit in with some Halloween style theme from haunted mansions to circus tents and unfortunately, insane asylums.
Being actually in an insane asylum for Halloween this year then, you would think I would be in the ideal position. Why decorate a place to look like a mental ward when you are on a real mental ward? My job is done. I don’t have to worry about a costume this year either as simply getting out of bed and putting my normal clothes on will qualify me as an accurate representation of a patient in a psychiatric unit. I don’t even have to bother with face paints or drawing spider webs on my face with black eyeliner which then doesn’t wash off for three months, meaning I have to go to my best friend’s wedding with an arachnid adorning my cheek. Think of the time I will save…I can use it instead to have a nice cup of tea with my feet up. Bargain!

Rather appropriately, Halloween this year falls on the same day as ward round on our unit, aka the scariest event of the week (because you have to sit in a room with a lot of intimidating professional people staring at you making scary decisions, not because there is always a ghoul wailing in the corner…he is there all year round and we are all pretty used to him by now…his name is Derrick.) Other than that spooky coincidence however, there is, rather disappointingly, nothing very Halloween like about Halloween in a real life psychiatric unit which might disappoint some people, but it is important to note if you are planning a party with the “asylum” theme, because trust me when I say this is not the ideal setting for your festive frivolities.

From that opening, you may very well assume that from here I am going to send this post in the direction of a serious “why you shouldn’t set a Halloween party in a psychiatric unit theme” rant, highlighting and raising the awareness of the fact that these parties promote stigmatising ideas of mental health problems that are already far too prominent in society. You may think I am about to get all up in your faces about people needing to be politically correct, plead for you to see us patients as mere troubled folk rather than fodder for a costume idea, but you know what, today I am not even touching any of the politically correct important serious issues with mental hospital themed parties this year. Nope, instead I am going to raise awareness of the far more important fact that, aside from being insensitive and offensive in a million different ways which I should probably talk about but won’t because others have no doubt done it before me, celebrating Halloween with a “mental hospital theme” is simply impractical and will not involve any of the fun games and activities people associate with Halloween.

Think about it, what are the common things people do to celebrate this time of year? Number one on the agenda: pumpkin carving.
Pumpkin carving? I am supposedly in the ideal setting… but how the hell am I supposed to do that? Do you really think I would be allowed a knife in here? I don’t even have the wrap around belt for my dressing gown! Do people have any idea about things that are and are not allowed in a psychiatric unit? You can’t go carving root vegetables with machetes when you are in hospital and if you can’t do that then a Happy Halloween party is pretty much impossible. I mean you can try but a Happy Halloween without a pumpkin? Forget it.
Anyway, where am I and all of these “crazed deranged loons” supposed to be getting these pumpkins? In the supermarket? In my homegrown special organic vegetable patch at the local allotments? I can’t leave the ward!
Unless Cinderella’s fairy Godmother is planning on turning up any time soon, pumpkins are another no go item (although admittedly pumpkins are not specifically mentioned on the list of things staff search your bags for upon admission…they are more focused on things like knives and razor blades…shiny silver things mostly…I have a theory that all of the staff are secretly magpies…).

Aside from pumpkin carving then, what else do people do at Halloween to celebrate the holiday at parties and create merriment? Ah, apple bobbing!
Surely that is possible in a mental health hospital? Surely a party in a real or with a mental hospital theme could celebrate via that classic game? NOPE.
Again party planners, think about the impracticalities! I am on an Eating Disorder ward for goodness sake! Food is scary and hard enough as it is without adding the obstacles of a black eye due to a violently bobbing Granny Smith and the potentially fatal risk of drowning mid meal time. Do people think staff allow patients to go submerging their heads underwater like that? OF COURSE NOT (that is unless the staff have a chance of patients retrieving something shiny for them from the bottom of the pool of water…Magpies the lot of them I tell you.)

How about a Halloween party ghost walk? Sorry. No ghosts.
What ghost would decide to haunt a mental hospital? If you get the opportunity to spend eternity in the location of your choice are you really going to settle on “psych ward” as your idea of a forever home? Of course not! If you ask me it is far more likely there will be ghosts haunting more enjoyable places like a beach in the Bahamas or the local pub. Me? Well, keep it on the down low because I don’t want to give everyone else ideas and end up with my chosen location being overcrowded with the wandering souls of the deceased, but personally if I get a chance to come back to hang around earth for a bit longer, I have my eye on Disneyland. No queuing for Thunder mountain and a chance of bumping into Mickey Mouse every day? Sign me up good Sir! Ok, when it comes to the specific mental ward I am on, we do have Derrick in ward round so I guess I could try celebrating with some kind of ghost walk but like I said…he isn’t really that scary (or clever to be honest. Like I said nobody with any sense would decide to spend eternity in a mental institution. Why is Derrick here you ask? Yeah, turns out he is lost. Broken sat nav. Was aiming for a Broadway Theatre so that he could watch all the musicals he wanted for free every night. It is pitiful really. Sometimes I try to cheer him up by singing Cabaret and doing a bit of a tap dance but alas it just isn’t the same.)

Seriously, throw any Halloween party activity idea or game at me and I will be able to prove my point that realistically, trying to play that game in one of the top rated theme setting type places of a mental hospital is simply not a good idea. Playing with a spooky pet rat or a creepy horror movie style jump scare of a black cat leaping around every doorway? Yeah, good luck getting that around infection control. Pin the bone on the skeleton? WHAT DID I JUST SAY ABOUT SHARP OBJECTS AND STAFF LIKING TO CONFISCATE SHINY THINGS. Huddling up to tell scary stories at midnight? Cancelled. Your anti psychotics will have you asleep by 9pm before you have even had a chance to say “Once upon a time on a dark and stormy night”.

See what I mean? Aside from all that serious nonsense about being politically incorrect and damn well offensive, setting your Halloween party in an insane asylum is simply not a good idea because it is impractical when it comes to celebrating with any of the usual activities. Of course don’t let that stop you, if you feel ultra compelled to promote the stigmatising stereotype that people with mental health problems are terrifying lunatics to be feared, then be my guest. Just thought I should warn you that if you do that you really aren’t going to have a very happy time if you are doing the setting/theme accurately, aka without the obligatory activities pumpkin carving, apple bobbing and other Halloween classics. My advice for your Halloween party theme this year? Go with the haunted mansion plan or vampire lair. Trust me, as well as being less offensive, those ideas will provide a lot more fun…I hear some vampire lairs even come with their own poisonous bats, with no infection control getting in the way and neat vegetable patches supplied with organic, perfectly round pumpkins, ripe for the carving…Hoorah! Happy Halloween!

Take care everyone x

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16 thoughts on “Psychiatric Unit Themed Halloween Parties And Why They Are Always A Bad Idea

  1. I will respond with a proper comment later when I have thought it through but I’m not sure I agree with you about ghosts choice of abode. I can think of a couple of “mental health professionals” I would gladly dedicate my ghost life to haunting, even if it meant residing in the very place I wanted to break out of so many times!

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  2. As always, you inject your brilliant humour and wit into a serious topic in a fantastic way. The whole halloween = mental health patients thing really bothers me. I was at an event at a prestigious bar in London on Saturday night and their setting was a hospital, with signs to the psych ward. I have just written them an email to explain why that was inappropriate. In this day and age, we really shouldn’t have to be reminding people of these things!

    Your comment about the apple bobbing reminded me of when I was IP on an ED ward, We had a halloween party, and went to great lengths to decorate the ward and dress ourselves up. There was an adolescent psych ward opposite us, so we invited them to join in. They all came along and their first question was ‘where’s the food?’ As extra food was the last thing us patients wanted, we never considered that our guests might like any! Haha x

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    • Gah I am so glad that you wrote that email! On behalf of all the mental people of the world I salute and thank you! When I wrote this post my Mum wasn’t sure that things like that still happened but that goes to show people still really are that ignorant! Love that Halloween party story btw, classic ED party logic! Next it will be birthday parties without the cake! HEAVEN FORBID! xx

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    • And after this comment I may love you even more too…YAY FOR SO MUCH LOVE (please reattach your head asap though because it is a beautiful head and fairly important in the interests of staying alive…you did science and want to do medicine you should know these things…)

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  3. I made wool and pipe cleaner pom pom spiders when I was on the psyc ward last month, yes, I was that bored. Makes me happy to know they are pinned to the ceiling above the serving hatch freaking people our on a daily basis. My Halloween was spent reviewing my mental health with the CMHT, I think I would have almost rather been out trick or treating with my daughter. She brought home a huge carrier bag of sweet things, regressed back to fear of sweet things so I am failing at the usual tradition of steeling her sweets.

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  4. Hey instagram birthday buddy! As a fellow unintentional collector of mental health disorders, I fully agree with you here. Also, this reminds me of how I was in a hospitalization program during last year’s Halloween and the staff all dressed as ghosts in my ward. Which was not fun when they come and check on you all night and take notes, but you forget it’s Halloween when you’re sleeping and so you have a panic attack thinking your psych ward is haunted. Except one girl who didn’t get the ghost memo; she dressed up as “where’s Waldo”. I liked her.
    Hope you’re doing well!

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    • Ahh! My birthday buddy! Good lord we have a lot in common! June 22nd clearly has a reputation for producing marvellous human beings…with a lot in common! I am sorry to hear that you were in a hospital program last year at Halloween/at all! I really hope you are better now/have the support you need/ know I am here if you ever need! None of the staff dressed up on our ward…boring…there wasn’t even a where’s Waldo…then again maybe I didn’t find him….hugs to you my dear! Xxxx

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  5. I’ve known (supervised) pumpkin carving with actual pumpkins and knives (though fake candles) to happen in both adult EDUs I’ve been in… and an organised trip out for a ghost walk has legit taken place for people… err… allowed out. Just saying! We also had pumpkin soup this year and did a Hallowe’en quiz… fun times.

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    • Well those adult EDU’s sound far better at celebrating spooky festival times than most! I am sad to hear that you were a patient in such a setting but glad your Halloween needs were somewhat met! Especially when it comes to the pumpkin soup…I have never tried that! I must contact the kitchens immediately!

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