Friday, October 17, 2008

It Happens Every Year

It happens Every Year. Somehow the following statement is supposed to make up for the use of extremely prejudicial choices made by designers of halloween attractions.

Disclaimer: "FrightFx's production of Elshoff Manor is based on a fictional storyline and is meant for entertainment purposes only."

The call this year came from the mother of a person who spends his days at the state mental hospital, institutionalized for a brutal crime that he committed while suffering from psychosis. A local early morning newscast was visiting a halloween attraction touting the wonderful special effects designed to scare the pants off of the persons who would pay their $20 to go to the attraction. I could hear the distress of the mother as she asked me to swing into action and see how bad it was this time.

The truth is, it was the worst I have ever seen.

It has been less than a month since the "Race for the Cure" a benefit in Portland, Oregon attended by over 50,000 participants to benefit breast cancer research. That disease enjoys massive support by the community with an outpouring of emotional and financial support second to none. We are happy to support that cause because the disease does not cause a person to act out in a way that can harm others.

Unfortunately, when individuals suffer from psychotic brain diseases, bad things can happen. Potentially very bad things. What society fails to realize is that just like breast cancer we do not have full control over the outcome of the disease. With cancer some recover, some do not. We celebrate the survivors. With mental illness, some recover, some do not. Instead of celebrating recovery, we mock the possibility of recovery. What really differs however, is our perception of the disease and how we portray those diseases in the public conscoiusness.

Breast Cancer, Kidney Disease and Heart Disease are all given our sympathy. Massive fundraising campaigns support diseases like Muscular Distrophy. Even AIDS, with its taint of association with sexual promiscuity enjoys widespread support.

Mental illness gets hundreds of haunted house displays with descriptions like this:

"Patients who even in their worst mental states normally led calm quiet lives, now often took part in violent outbursts. No one seemed to know why. Per facility records, patient medications weren't changed, the staff seemed to be treating them the same, and everything else seemed status quo. Many of the orderly staff worried about the downward state of the patients, and a few left employment at the Asylum, claiming that their personal safety was at risk. The remaining attending medical staff complained to all that the private sessions that Stone ran with each inmate were unmonitored, and that many of the cases of diminished mental state and violence occurred after these sessions."

Imagine, for a moment, if you were a family member of a person stricken with such a disease, how you would feel. Worse yet, be a person who faces the daily challenge of such a disease and saw how your condition was represented to the public at large. Then try and imagine thousands of people lined up paying $20 each to go to such a display and revel in the concept of your misery.

Then you can experience the reality of the stigma suffered by those whos lives have been shattered by psychotic mental illness.

There is no worse prejudice that lives in our world today than the stigma and prejudice against those who suffer from psychotic mental illness. Not only is the condition terribly misunderstood, the effects of the disease are used to mock the condition of those affected and create unjustified fear and scorn of those who suffer its effects.

If a person suffers from a seizure while driving an automobile and causes an accident, it is believed to be a tragic incident and support for them is not questioned. If a person under the influence of a psychotic delusion does the same, they are guilty of a crime and institutionalized. The cause of the incident is the same, a disease that affects the person's ability to make their body respond in a manner that will enable them to operate the car safely. The results and the effect on their life is anything but the same.

Given the plight of those who have family members who suffer from mental illness, the use of the asylum and its story of untreatable and uncontrollable mental illness is one that not only portrays inaccurate stereotypes and irrational fear, but works counter to the ideals of our society. The Portland Oregonian won a Pulitzer Prize for accurate portrayal of the terrifying conditions of our own state mental hospital and detailed the horrific conditions from which they suffered.

Currently the State of Oregon is facing a lawsuit from the United States Department of Justice for its violations of civil rights under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act. In addition the State of Oregon broke ground on a new State Hospital in September of this year which is designed to bring our State’s treatment of persons with mental illness to an enlightened place free from the awful types of stigma that haunted houses portray.

The Portland LumberJax, a Rose Garden tenant, allowed NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, to publicize the NAMI Walks for the Mind of America event in their lobby. That the same facility would stoop to such blatantly prejudicial portrayal of the plight of the mentally ill that tortures all who have family members who suffer from the diseases.

United States Senators Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden have both lost lives of their immediate family members to mental illness and Senator Smith has worked tirelessly to help those who suffer from these diseases. Former U.S. Senators Fred Thompson and Paul Wellstone have also lost immediate family members to these diseases. Congress just passed a Parity Mental Health Bill to allow citizens of our country to have the same access to mental health treatment as they do for medical illnesses. These events coupled with the rash of suicides and diseases suffered from soldiers returning to our country that have given their all to protect our citizens from those who would harm us show just how out of touch haunted house designers are with the challenges that their fellow citizens face in their daily lives.

It is deeply troubling to the families of those who suffer that companies would use the tragedy of real families and citizens of our country to perpetuate the link between mental illness and fear. The realities are far different from what haunted attractions portray, but the synopsis on the FrightFX website fuels the misinformation and prejudice and fear that results for families like those mentioned above who live with incredible grief over the condition of their family members.

There is no excuse for portrayals such as this. Mental Illness is the issue that remains as the last major issue of extreme prejudice in our society, yet one in 5 families is affected by one of the diseases. It is time to stop the prejudice and create awareness of how we can treat these diseases and save the lives of those who suffer not trivialize their suffering and perpetuate prejudice.

May we all look forward to a time when we can no longer say "It happens Every Year."