Supporting Your Loved Ones With Mental Illness on Halloween

For many people, Halloween is a fun holiday filled with candy, spookiness, fun, and games. But Halloween can be a challenging holiday for people with mental illness, trauma histories, or substance abuse. The holiday can bring up complicated emotions, trigger memories, and might be a time when the urge to drink or consume drugs becomes much stronger.

Key takeaways:
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    Halloween can be a challenging holiday for people with mental illness, substance abuse, or trauma histories, bringing up complicated emotions or triggering memories.
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    For people with conditions like social anxiety or autism, Halloween can be a particularly tough time. The pressure to go out and have a good time can make symptoms worse or feel too overwhelming.
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    You can support your loved ones on Halloween by asking them what they need, staying in, avoiding trick-or-treaters, hosting a small gathering, and finding other ways to make the holiday special.

If you have a loved one who struggles during the Halloween season, there are several things you can do to support them. This article gives an overview of some reasons why people struggle with Halloween and what you can do to help support them.

Why do some people struggle on Halloween?

There are many reasons why someone might have a hard time on Halloween. We’ve listed some of these reasons below.

Trauma

For people with trauma histories, Halloween can be a very challenging time. Halloween may bring up reminders or triggers of past traumas, whether because of loud noises, graphic costumes, or other violent content they may encounter. Coming across these triggers can make the holiday a minefield of distress for trauma survivors, sending them into a constant state of hypervigilance and fight-or-flight.

Substance abuse

Halloween is a time when many young adults and other age groups attend parties and celebrate the holiday by dressing up in costumes and consuming substances like alcohol. Halloween parties like these can be a big trigger for people in recovery from substance abuse. The temptation to drink or use drugs can be strong, especially when everyone around them is doing so. It can be challenging for them to celebrate with friends while avoiding the desire to consume these substances.

Grief

For people who are grieving the loss of a loved one, whether recent or not, Halloween can be a very challenging holiday. Seeing friends and neighbors treat death as something entertaining or “just pretend” can feel like a cruel joke when someone is grieving a very real loss. Seeing things like headstones used as decorations and ghosts hanging from trees can be painful and upsetting reminders of loss.

Social anxiety

For people with conditions like social anxiety, Halloween can be a particularly tough time. The pressure to go out and have a good time can make symptoms worse or feel too overwhelming. Certain Halloween activities - like having trick-or-treaters come to the door - can send someone with anxiety into a fight-or-flight spiral. This can make it difficult to enjoy the holiday and can even lead to avoiding Halloween activities altogether.

Neurodivergence

For people on the Autism spectrum and others who are neurodivergent, Halloween can be a time of overwhelming sensory experiences. The holiday is often full of triggers like crowds, loud noises, and costumes that can be overwhelming. This can make it difficult for neurodivergent people to enjoy the holiday.

How to support your loved ones around Halloween

If you have a family member who struggles during Halloween, here are some ways you can support them.

Talk to them

The best place to begin supporting a loved one is to talk to them about what they want and need. Everyone is different, and the support your loved one needs is likely different than what someone else might like. It’s possible that what you have in mind is the exact opposite of what your loved one wants! So before you make any plans or assumptions, ask them what they need.

Stay in

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with staying in on Halloween. If going to a party or walking through your neighborhood could be stressful for your loved one, it’s completely alright to decide to stay in. You might decide to watch some Halloween movies, hand out candy to the trick-or-treaters, play board games, or do something completely unrelated to the holiday. However you choose to spend Halloween, it’s okay to do it in a way that prioritizes your loved one’s health and safety.

Avoid trick or treaters

As fun as trick-or-treating is for many kids, the constant doorbell ringing can be a big trigger for people with mental illness. Instead of engaging with trick-or-treaters, it’s okay to avoid them entirely. Turn your porch light off, don’t answer the door, or even find something to do outside the house. It’s okay to take steps to support your loved one’s well-being, even if that means the neighborhood kids get a little less candy.

Host a small get together

Hosting a small gathering of close friends is a great way to enjoy the Halloween holiday on your terms. By hosting the gathering at your own home, you can better plan for and avoid any potential triggers. You can also set clear expectations with your guests about what they need to avoid doing or bringing to the gathering, such as any gory costumes or objects that make loud noises.

Make it special

Find other ways to make the Halloween holiday special without exposing your loved one to potential triggers. If your loved one has a hard time with activities that take place in the dark, find ways to celebrate Halloween during the daytime, such as by going apple picking or to a corn maze. You could even create your own unique Halloween traditions for your family, like having a cookie decorating contest.

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