All aboard the Halloween Bullshit-Go-Round

Last year it was Jokers’ Masquerade, this year it’s Grace Dent. Fuck’s sake.

I also seem to be the only person who’s angry about this, so I feel like even more of a headcase than usual.

So, this is the salient chunk of what she wrote;


I’m going to have to bite, and be that annoying cry-baby that you’re railing against.

First of all, I’m sorry that you’re terrified of patients escaping from a secure hospital. It might cheer you (or not) to know that you’re still more likely to be murdered, kidnapped or raped by someone that you know than by someone who was involuntarily sectioned. Even if you live next door to a secure unit that regularly loses track of its patients.

Then I’m going to share a “darkest fears” story of my own, which isn’t a hypothetical one. Many years ago I lived alone in a ground-floor flat. I’d been there for about a year, and I was having a period of serious mental ill-health at the time – Psychosis, that led to fairly severe self-harm, and to the brink of a suicide attempt. When I realised that I was about to try to kill myself, I instead phoned 111, who told me to get myself to a safe place and wait for the emergency ambulance. Living in a tiny ground-floor flat, the only safe place where I thought I wouldn’t be able to reach something to harm myself with further was sitting outside.

So I dropped my tools into the sink, opened the front door, and sat on the kerb to wait for an ambulance, in my pyjamas, unlaced boots, no socks, and with a towel over the worst of the bleeding.

The first responder to arrive was a police car, with one officer in it, who first checked that I wasn’t holding a knife, then sat down next to me, applied pressure to the wounds, gave me his gloves to stop my hands from freezing off, and let me cry my eyes out into his hi-vis stab vest.

A few minutes later, the ambulance arrived, and carted me off to the local mental health ward. The treatment I got was quick, appropriate, and frankly I couldn’t fault it.

Days passed, and I was back at home and starting to recover – Nothing ambitious, just about able to make toast and watch TV, and going to bed not long after sunset; this being midwinter, at about five or six in the afternoon, and sleeping for about twelve hours a day.

The first bit of graffiti just said “Skitzo”, and it was in permanent marker on the front door. A couple of days later is was joined by “A psycho lives here” in spray-paint. After that, there were just buckets of paint thrown up the windows. When I ventured out to buy more bread, I was told by the man behind the counter in the corner shop that “Of course they’ll want you to move out, if you’ve cut yourself, it’s not that far in anyone’s eye to imagine you’d attack them.”

Near the end of the week, the problem of the paint-splattery windows was solved by someone putting bricks through all of them. The brick through the bedroom window actually hit me, in bed, and I sat up in time to see that it wasn’t just teenagers, it was someone who lived further up the street. He shouted abuse when he realised I was looking at him, and threatened to come in and “get me”.

As you can probably imagine, sitting in my living room and listening to a neighbour frantically kicking at the front door and rattling the handle, trying to get in, is more terrifying than any halloween costume could possibly convey.

I moved out the next morning, after a sleepless night.

But, honestly, that’s not my darkest fear. My fear is that it’ll happen again, in my new house, which I love and never want to leave. I know it’s been close a few times – I’ve been lucky in that the people that’ve found me wandering around dissassociated, or cut to ribbons, have been very understanding and have always just taken me home safely. That’s luck, not judgment.

But, I hear you ask, what does this have to do with halloween costumes? Well, everything. In the events I relayed, I would always have cut myself, would always have been sectioned, and would always have had a long, boring recovery ahead of me. But my neighbours attacking me, in what they thought was a preemptive strike and defending their community? The only reason that happened was because of the tremendous stigma against the mentally ill, which is fuelled by (amongst other things) horror cliches about asylums and psychopaths and people in hospital gowns with fake blood down the front and manic grins.

I don’t think it’s going to be easy, but in our lifetimes it used to be perfectly acceptable to wear blackface costumes and to suggest that all Black people were either gangsters or warlords, and nowadays that’s the preserve of only a hardcore, openly-racist few. And I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think that within the same amount of time again, we might be able to make it unacceptable to cause this much harm to mentally ill people as well.