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Statement from President and CEO Dr. Nadiya Sunderji Halloween and the stigmatization of mental illness
Halloween and the stigmatization of mental illness
Posted on 10/23/2023

Statement from President and CEO Dr. Nadiya Sunderji

Halloween and the stigmatization of mental illness


Penetanguishene, Ontario –Spooky season should be a time for amusement and social connection for kids and adults alike. Sadly, Halloween can also be a time when there is potential to stigmatize mental illness. 


As I write this, my local community is hosting an annual attraction, Evil Unleashed, inviting people to experience
“5 nightmarish haunted houses,” one of them entitled Asylum. This is only one example of mental health care being portrayed as horror, and the Arkham facility in the Batman series also comes to mind.


Awareness and treatment of, mental health and illness have significantly evolved over the last several decades, however there is clearly much more work to do to overcome the stigma of mental illness. 


Why is this wrong? Mental health experts know that there are many negative impacts of stigmatization, which include discrimination of those with mental illness and reluctance to seek help or treatment.


At least one in five people in Canada will experience a mental health problem or illness. Mental illness directly or indirectly affects all of us at some time either personally or through someone we know – family members, friends, neighbours and co-workers. Mental illness affects people of all ages, education, income levels and cultures. Racism, poverty, homelessness, gender-based violence and other systemic inequities can worsen mental health and symptoms of mental illness, especially if supports are difficult to access. (Resource: Canadian Mental Health Association, 2021)


Youth in particular have had their mental health badly affected during the pandemic; what are “attractions” like Evil Unleashed teaching them about getting the help they need? While we’re fortunate that there are many newer resources available to help those in need, for example the provincial Ontario Structured Psychotherapy program providing timely and effective therapy that’s free for users, and Waypoint’s Youth Resiliency Program designed by and for youth, these terrific new services will make a limited impact if people are fearful or ashamed to use them.


It is time to stop the stigmatization. Let’s treat mental illness like we do other illnesses, support those with mental health problems and encourage ourselves and each other to get the treatment and support we need and deserve.


Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care is one of four standalone specialty mental health care hospitals in our province. Mental health care and serious mental illness are complex and challenging, and Waypoint provides compassionate and expert hospital services for some of the most severely ill and disadvantaged people in Central Ontario and in the province.