Costumes which Depict the Mentally Ill: Yay or Nay?

Community Member

Hi everyone

Well as you know, another Halloween has come and gone.   The Great Pumpkin did not come again this year.   Darn it   But we had a fun day making caramel corn, cookies, and going trick-or-treating with my youngest son.   After we got home I settled in to watch Dancing with the Stars.   In case you haven't ever watched this show, it is a contest where professional dancers are paired with celebrities to see which couple is the best ballroom dancers.   In last night's show they had all the dancers dressed up for Halloween.   I saw the part where they divided up into teams to do a group dance and I was most "intrigued" by Team Tango's attire, especially the guys.

I thought to myself, "Are they supposed to be wearing straitjackets?"   Really?

Here is a video of their dance from in which the dancers retreat to a cage as the finale.

Is it just me or is this a little or lot offensive?

I know what some people are going to say..."Oh get over yourself it is just a costume.   Lighten up!"

As the daughter of a mother suffering from severe mental illness...I just don't think this sort of thing is appropriate.   As a young girl I saw my mother dragged away by force by police.   I saw her being restrained.   I saw my mother in an institution with bars on the window.   It was very frightening and not in a Halloween way.

The caricature of the "insane" person is so engrained in our culture that we don't give it a thought.   We see the straitjacket costume and we instantly interpret that this person is supposed to be crazy,dangerous, and in need of restraint.

The truly terrifying truth about straitjackets is that it wasn't so long ago that mental hospitals and institutions were still using them.   Take a look at this New York Times article which cites that between 1988 and 1992, eighteen deaths in New York State psychiatric hospitals were due to restraint or seclusion.   Most mental hospitals in the U.S. no longer use straitjackets but in other countries the restraints are even more barbaric.

Trigger alert:   What you are about to see in the following linked images is graphic and disturbing.

In places like Indonesia the mentally ill are chained and contained within cages to sit in their own feces and urine.   PBS did a recent report on these "treatment centers" in Indonesia which may remind some of the middle ages.

In Somalia the same thing is happening.   Here you see men chained to a rock.   This is really going on in the world.

Had enough yet?

And here is yet another image of a man in China who is chained to a wall and wears no clothing.   His crime?   He is mentally ill.   And this time it is not an institution or treatment center but his own mother who has chained him.

To me the straitjacket is a symbol of mistreatment of people who are mentally ill.   In addition to chaining and caging humans, putting someone in a straitjacket is one of the many barbaric ways we have of controlling those who are deemed as mentally ill, mentally retarded, or simply those who do not fit within the norms of society. There is nothing entertaining about it.   Dressing up as someone with a mental illness...not cool in my book.

It seems that dancing with straitjackets is all the rage.   In addition to Dancing with the Stars performers, the Robert Morris University dance troop in Chicago also decided to wear straitjackets to entertain earlier this year.   Apparently the mentally ill wear no pants, have frizzy hair, and extreme dark under-eye circles according to their portrayal.

**My question for discussion this week is:   Do you feel that it is appropriate for people to dress up in a straitjacket for entertainment purposes?   Is it okay to dress up as someone with a mental illness?   Or do you feel that this is much ado about nothing?   Do you feel stigmatized by such costumes?   Your thoughts?   We want to hear them!  **