“Asylum” Haunted Houses: A good scare or something more sinister?

Food for Thought

Article by Jayden Jones, Reporter

Photo courtesy of Pexels.com

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are falling, sweater season is upon us, and haunted houses are the preferred method of entertainment. Such attractions use zombies, witches, demons, serial killers, and demons to deliver that sought-after scare to patrons from across the country. However, there is one type of Haunted House that doesn’t need monsters or murderers to frighten. Instead, it uses the mentally insane.

Most “Asylum” Haunted Houses feature the rather stereotypical barren white rooms replete with the mentally insane, who scream and claw at their faces, begging for help. It’s not hard to see why they are so common. Historically, asylums were often places where doctors practiced horrible and abusive ‘treatments’ such as electrotherapy and lobotomy. Patients were often shackled and put in straitjackets.

When I was first exposed to the idea of “Asylum” Haunted Houses, I thought they might be an effective means of expanding our capacity for empathy. After all, we will (thankfully) never have to experience the dehumanizing treatments of the mentally ill. So, to set foot in a Haunted House that accurately depicts the sheer horror of their experiences might help us understand better what our ancestors had to go through.

However, after researching several “Asylum” Haunted Houses, I found that the advertised experience was less about a historically accurate insane asylum and more about terrifying encounters with the mentally insane. What was supposed to be frightening wasn’t the setting. It was the portrayal of the mentally ill as unpredictable, violent, and often disfigured.

 This depiction of mental illness can potentially shine some light on why it has always had such a stigma. We are taught that mental illness is something to fear. We are taught that mental illness looks like something we would find in a haunted house. But this just isn’t true.

Today, you don’t need to pay to attend an “Asylum” Haunted House to be frightened by mental illness in America. The suicide rate among teen girls reached a 40 year high in 2015. The anxiety rate amongst incoming college freshman has increased from 18% in 1995 to 29% in 2010. September of last year saw two student suicides in two days.

The fact of the matter is, any time we subject ourselves to the portrayal of the mentally ill as frightening and violent, we are effectively desensitizing ourselves. And why on earth would we want to desensitize ourselves to an issue as serious and universal as mental health?


Categories: Opinion, Uncategorized

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