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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Why Halloween Can Be Difficult For People With Mental Health Problems

When I was five years old, I used to get so frightened at the prospect of people turning up to my house in costumes on Halloween, that my mum would have to take me out of the house and drive me around our neighbourhood with a jumper wrapped round my head so that I couldn’t see the hoards of trick or treaters passing by. I am now twenty four years old and a lot of things about me have changed (for example I can now tie my shoes and tell the time unlike my five year old past self), but my terror towards and unusual way of spending the pumpkin laden holiday of Halloween is still very much the same.

It probably sounds ridiculous to admit that when I am of course aware that a lot of the ghosts you see dragging their chains at Halloween are actually kids with bedsheets thrown over their heads as apposed to genuine supernatural beings. It is after all fairly easy to distinguish the two simply by checking to see if the creature in question is carrying a bucket of sweets (kids wearing old bed sheets tend to be more interested in seeking candy than seeking revenge, unlike the true ghostly counterparts on which they base their fashion choices). However my issues with Halloween are not because I am convinced that the trick or treaters appearing at my door are real monsters, but are due to a hell of a lot of mental health fears and stress that I am sure a lot of other people struggle with as well. So, if you have ever wondered how Halloween feels when you have mental health problems, sit back and rest assured, for I am here to tell you all about it…

Let us begin with trick or treaters. When you have problems with anxiety it is likely you will be anxious about a lot of things (ground breaking information right there I know), and with social anxiety these things are likely to involve pieces of general daily interaction like answering the phone or the front door. I know that for me, hearing the sound of the doorbell or the ringing of a telephone sends shivers down my spine/causes me to leap under the nearest blanket and clamp my hands around my ears until the noise stops and the person goes away…and that is when I am expecting a call from a friend. Indeed, I have been known to ask visiting chums to text me when they enter my road and then a second time to say when they have reached the door step.The vibration of my phone to signal the receiving of a text scares me too, but it is far better than the alternative hellish chimes of the doorbell. As you can imagine then, when the people turning up at the door are unexpected strangers, the anxiety is even more intense.

That is bad enough when it is general unexpected strangers, say a postman dropping off a parcel or a window cleaner asking to be paid, but on Halloween it is even worse because the strangers I am already in fear of are wearing goblin masks designed to make them look all the more terrifying!Some may even be dressed to look like the Grim Reaper or be carrying fake blood soaked foam axes to create the impression that they are a murderer on the loose, which, when you live in fear of terrible things happening on a day to day basis is a sight that will do little to calm any stresses already spiralling in your neurotic anxiety riddled brain.

It isn’t even as if you can just decide not to answer the door to avoid the unexpected goblin visitors, because if you ignore them they will threaten to throw eggs at your door! Who the hell came up with that idea as a means of celebrating a holiday that originated as a way to honour the dead? Which dead people have ever said that they wish for that to be the way in which they are remembered?
I know that it is all supposed to be “just for fun”, but I certainly don’t enjoy an evening of people turning up in horrifying attire, demanding I choose between the options of providing them with sweets or having my abode bombarded by the unfertilised albumen/vitellus of low flying poultry. That isn’t a choice! I don’t like either of those options! Whatever happened to the joy found in socialising with friends and celebrating any occasion over a cup of tea or a game of snakes and ladders?
Then again, even if you decide to brave opening the door despite the potential terror lurking on the other side and give your tormentors the sugary treats they require, you have the added stress of actually having to buy the candy, yet another nightmare for multiple anxiety related illnesses, most of all eating disorders.
Everyone knows that people with eating disorders often fear eating food themselves but for some, even walking into a supermarket to buy it in the first place is a difficulty. Personally, I know anorexia makes it hard for me to buy tins of chocolate or biscuits for presents at Christmas even though I am aware that I don’t have to eat them, and I have several friends who find that things you would potentially buy for trick or treaters are “triggers” which they would usually avoid having in the house. For some, there may be certain foods that they know they are likely to binge and/or purge on, so obviously it is easier to keep them on the supermarket shelves out of harm’s way and not in the next room, much like someone giving up alcohol rids the house of bottles in an attempt to remove temptation. If therefore, you have an eating disorder and this is the case, Halloween is a night where you either have to buy products that you know will potentially send you on an out of control rampage back home, or avoid the products and spend the evening scraping egg yolks out of your letter box.

Reading back all that I have just written, it is pretty easy to see how Halloween can be an utter nightmare for people with various anxiety laden mental health problems, and here I have only touched on the dread that comes with trick or treaters, which really is a small part of Halloween on the whole. I haven’t even mentioned the serious potentially frightening situations like Halloween parties, other social gatherings with people disguised as intimidating warlocks and of course the most petrifying festive activity…apple bobbing (cue dramatic lightening, crash of cymbals and the high pitched cackle of a hyperactive banshee).

If then like me, you have a mental health problem that sends you into a state on Halloween, my advice for managing this evening would be to try to hang out with friends or family who are not dressed to look like the Grim reaper, to distract you and help with any goblin like visitors. Either that or of course there is the option of hiding under a blanket with your hands over your ears waiting for the day to be over/getting a friend to drive you around the neighbourhood away from any doorbells with a jumper tied around your head. Remember, it is just one night of the year and if things really are terrible I hope this post has let you know that you are not alone in feeling scared of a holiday everyone else seems to look forward to. I am not sure how knowing that I am also terrified will help much when the doorbell rings and you are faced with the “say hello to a masked creature or clean eggs from windows tomorrow” dilemma, but I guess it is always nice to know that you are not alone and to have the knowledge that someone out there understands. Also if you don’t have mental health problems and none of these things are relatable, I hope I have at least answered any questions you may have wondered on in life about what it is like to have mental health problems on October 31st.
I hope you all have a fabulous/as anxiety free evening as possible. Happy Halloween!

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