With Halloween behind us, people with mental illnesses were reminded that our society still thinks mental illnesses are a joke. Last year, costumes like the infamous “Ana Rexia” were criticized on Twitter for making light of a deadly eating disorder. This year, I saw a costume that is the most appalling thing I have ever seen. Walmart was selling a “suicide scar” adhesive, complete with a gash presumably engraved by a razor blade.
As someone who has struggled with multiple mental illnesses and has attempted suicide as a result, I know the suffering that causes suicide attempts. I also know that it will haunt me for the rest of my life.
Suicide is not just the result of a bad breakup or bullying; it is often caused by an accumulation of pain that kindles in one’s mind years before being set aflame. For some, it is planned out; for me, it was impulsive. That is what terrifies me; I did not experience the warning signs that professionals talk about in seminars. Yet, every day, I live with the knowledge that I tried to end my own life.
I understand that it is not society’s job to coddle me with bold-faced labels and alternative lessons. I understand that I must develop my own coping skills that do not interfere with the lives of those around me.
Instead of asking my friends not to engage in diet-talk (I am also recovering from an eating disorder) for instance, I will change the subject or take a walk. I have never requested that my professors give me alternate assignments when suicide or another aspect of mental illness is being discussed because it’s often an essential part of the lesson plan. I still must learn and engage in the same activities as my peers in order to earn my degree – regardless of my history of mental illness.
While I am not a proponent of ever-present trigger warnings, blatantly making a joke about people killing themselves is horrific and inhumane. Tip-toeing around delicate topics is different from understanding that mental illnesses are not funny and should be taken seriously. It is important to openly discuss suicide, self-harm, abuse, eating disorders, and other taboo topics associated with mental illnesses. These open discussions may upset some people, but making an illness into a Halloween costume is even more disgusting. A line must be drawn between political correctness and basic human decency because it seems as if our society is losing its humanity.
Costumes like this are reminders of the countless days spent running scissors across my thigh as a means to stop my mind from racing. They are reminders of months spent in treatment, lost friendships, and my newest fear that if I keep a pen open during a lecture, I will unconsciously dig it into any bare flesh to relieve anxiety. This is what people are mocking when they dress up as mental patients; the constant fear that I have the power to hurt myself and that I might use that power at the first sign of discomfort.