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

HalloweenInvite

Is Donald Trump Mentally Ill?

Since his inauguration in January 2017, there have been a lot of articles written about Donald Trump and considering he is now President of the United States (feel free to cry uncontrollably about this), that is not a surprise. The job of President of the United States is not exactly one you apply for if your goal in life is to keep a low profile and avoid people noticing you. Of all the articles I have seen there have been serious statements about his political endeavours as well as more lighthearted comments about how his hair always looks like it is trying to escape (and who can blame it), or a more recent movement talking about how much his chin looks like a frog. Lately though, more than people comparing the lower part of his face to a tadpole laying amphibian, people have been writing about the fact that Donald Trump is so outrageous in his running of the country that he must be mentally ill.

Now, I am not denying the possibility that this is the case and that Donald Trump is indeed suffering from a mental health condition. I am not a psychologist who can make a statement either way on the matter and funnily enough I have never met old frog face (sorry, “President Trump”), as he lives in America and he doesn’t tend to hang out in the places that I am frequently found (aka my nearest Eating Disorder support service and my local Co-op.) For this reason I cannot meaningfully make accusations either way with regard to the accuracy of these claims. Maybe he is mentally ill, maybe he is not, but my issue with the whole thing is the fact that Donald Trump is only one in a long line of outrageous unpopular characters who has their persona explained away by the idea that they must be mentally ill. You hear it all the time from the newspapers to day to day conversation. If anyone ever says something ridiculous or if you ever hear about some murderer on the loose, people make comments like “they are clearly mad”, “they ought to be committed” or, as my Dad says, “their mind’s addled and they ought to have their bumps read”.

Of course, I understand that in some cases criminals are mentally ill and are therefore sent to psychiatric hospitals rather than prison, so I am not denying that diagnosable madness is never the cause of a crime or a foolish opinion. That said, this is not the case for EVERY crime or every stupid statement made and stating this idea over and over again, always explaining a murder or Donald Trump with the label “the person is mentally ill”, does nothing but perpetuate the mental health stigma that already exists and that damages the general “crazy” common folk like myself. I am always saying that nobody should ever be ashamed of being mentally ill and a lot of charities and celebrities have lately been supporting this message, coming out with their stories to encourage others to speak out and seek help. Is it any wonder people are afraid to say that they have a problem though, when the word “crazy” has become synonymous with actions or opinions that people think make someone a bad person.

Every time I read a headline that says “Donald Trump is like someone who is mentally ill” it feels like someone is instead saying “Donald Trump is like Katie Simon Phillips”. Obviously I realise it isn’t personal to me specifically but the comparison of Donald Trump to someone with a diagnosed mental health problem does lead to a large group of people who are unwell and who have no similarities to our floppy haired President, being lumped in the same category of some horrible Venn diagram. It just doesn’t feel fair. Why do I have to be shoved into the same category as Donald Trump? I have never threatened to build a wall (much to my Dad’s disappointment, he really needs help building our new conservatory), I have never stolen anyone’s health insurance and though I admit to having insecurities and am not the biggest fan of my appearance, I don’t think that my chin is particularly reminiscent of a toad. Admittedly I walk like and have similarities to a penguin, but a toad? Seems a bit harsh if you ask me.

Like I said, I know that whenever anyone makes statements like these they are not meaning to speak negatively of the mentally ill people of our world, but I think that it is because it is so unintentional and “unmeant” that it is such a problem. Mental health problems are so synonymous with criminal acts or outrageous opinions that you don’t even have to make an effort to draw a connection, it is automatic. I have personally found it particularly frustrating with Donald Trump especially, because one of the main things people accuse him of is having some kind of personality disorder, a diagnosis I have myself. This specific correlation seems even more personal than “he is mentally ill like you” because it lists a specific condition I am familiar with and I am sure it feels personal to many people out there.
“He needs serious therapy”, “he needs medication”, “he needs to be hospitalised” the people cry, and I find myself wanting to wave my arms about and cry back “yeah. a lot of us do, but that doesn’t mean that we are bad people or power hungry tyrants who discriminate against a variety of genders, sexualities and races that don’t fit into his perfect ideal of the “straight white male”. Not everyone who needs medication wants to build a wall, not everyone who needs intense therapy has got to that point because they have committed a crime and not everyone in hospital is roaming the corridors with ridiculous hair (although to be fair to people I do at least fit into that one.)

In a sense I suppose it is good that there is more of an awareness as to the things that could influence a person’s behaviour. These days people are seen less in the black and white “heaven or eternal damnation” terms than they were in the middle ages. People don’t see others as simply “good” or “bad”, even villains in movies tend to get backstories these days and are rarely the two dimensional moustache twirling creatures of pointless evil, with no more desires or motivation than those who used to tie people to train tracks in silent movies. They say every Saint has a past and every sinner has a future and I fully agree with that as well as the ideas that human actions and behaviours are often far more complex than they appear on the surface. Nevertheless, why can’t we accept at the same time that as complex and intricate as minds and motivations are, sometimes there are still things that are random, things that don’t make sense and that how things look on the surface may occasionally be a good representation of what is underneath. Why do people have to see the morally questionable things Donald Trump says and does and explain them as a sign of a diagnosed mental illness that needs therapy and emergency hospitalisation. Why can’t we see things he says or does that we perceive as idiotic and explain them simply as due to the fact that he is indeed a bit of an idiot. Maybe this sounds incredibly politically incorrect, but to be honest as someone who is frequently likened to and lumped in the same pile as Donald Trump, I am bored of being politically correct. I just think that people we decide are bad people and moustache twirling villains, did not all disappear the day we discovered the explanation of mental illness. Mentally ill people exist, but so can complete and utter plonkers who have nothing to do with mental health problems.

So back to my original question and the title of this blog. Is Donald Trump mentally ill? I DON’T KNOW (bet you are glad you read all those words to get to that groundbreaking conclusion). Maybe he is perfectly fine in the head and maybe he is totally off his rocker, but either way can we please stop with this need to compare anyone who commits a crime or has a political stance that many regard as offensive, to people who are mentally ill. I am mentally ill but I am not Donald Trump and neither are a lot of people out there who I have met in psychiatric units, passed in the therapy waiting room or stood behind when queuing up for their latest prescription of anti depressants. Like I said mentally ill people exist, idiots with mental health problems exist, but sometimes, if someone is behaving like an idiot, maybe they are just an idiot.

Take care everyone x

Trump