I have no problem with most haunted houses-it's fun to get scared every once in a while. My boyfriend even works at one and if I am able to get up my courage, I may take a tour through it. (I am notoriously squeamish about haunted houses and all my friends laughed at me when they heard that Charlie works at Netherworld.) I do, however, have a problem with how many haunted houses are themed as psychiatric hospitals filled with "crazies." My hometown, Lawrenceville, opened a haunted house which bills itself as "... a late 1800's sanitarium psychiatric ward for the criminally insane" where you can watch and participate in torturing inmates. Now vampires and devils are not real, or at least are debateable, but real people lost their lives and really were tortured in psychiatric units in the 1800s. In fact, people still die in psyciatric units and this is a very serious matter that I just cannot take lightly. Georgia's state hospitals are under scrutiny for having over 100 deaths that were probably preventable and when reviewed, Georgia's state hospitals received the high score of a "D." Some haunted house aficionados do not see how these kinds of haunted houses perpetuate the stigma that already surrounds mental illness and maybe I would agree if we also had haunted houses that featured cancer wards or primary care doctor's offices, but they don't. Somehow it is okay in our country and culture to demonize victims of mental illness, but not those with other diseases. Now I am not saying that we should demonize anybody-I am just trying to paint a picture the best way I know how of how these kinds of haunted houses hurt. Below is part of a letter that the president of NAMI GA wrote to the mayor of Lawrenceville:
As you may know, Terror in the Square is a haunted house being held just off of the square in Lawrenceville. The attraction, if you care to call it that, was scheduled to open tonight. The advertising for the event bills it as "... a late 1800's sanitarium psychiatric ward for the criminally insane" where visitors can "witness an actual electrocution and take part in the experiments conducted on our patients."
Needless to say, we find nothing funny or entertaining about using disabilities as attraction to provide entertainment. This is absolutely appalling and disgusting.
Would you have allowed this to take place had it been designed to create fun for visitors by way of using people with obvious physical defects? Cancers or other illnesses? Of course not. Yet something made it okay to allow this to take place at the expense of persons with mental illness and their families and those of us who struggle to improve their lives.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) spends countless hours and much effort trying to stop the stigma that so harms those with an illness and the families of those same people. This is indeed harmful to that effort and those people.
In case you are not aware of the sad state of mental health care in Georgia, NAMI grades the states every two years on a set of standard minimally acceptable requirements. In the last grading, Georgia received a grade of D. In fact, the situation was outlined in a very disturbing but informing series of articles by reporters for the AJC. The series, "A Hidden Shame" detailed problems in the state's system of care that allowed over 110 unexplained deaths of patients that were actually in state run facilities at the time of their deaths. At this time, the state of Georgia is at an impasse with the Federal Department of Justice due to the state's failures. Failures that allowed citizens to die under the guise of receiving care.
The name of Lawrenceville's haunted house is "Terror in the Square." If you want to be scared this Halloween, watch a scary movie or go to another haunted house (like Netherworld!), but please do not support a haunt that stigmatizes.