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Podcast: Haunted Asylums – Stigmatizing or Just Entertainment?

Each Halloween we encounter the same debate: are haunted asylums stigmatizing or are they simply entertainment? While some may think haunted asylums are tasteless at worst, they don’t feel like they’re an actual detriment to the mental illness community. In this episode, we look at this argument from both sides and really dig into what happens when we use mental illness as a theme for entertainment.  While Jackie and Gabe both make great arguments, we toss this question back to you. 

Are you offended by haunted asylums or do you see them as harmless entertainment — or something in between? Listen now and decide for yourself.

(Transcript Available Below)


About The Not Crazy Podcast Hosts

Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from Gabe Howard. To learn more, please visit his website,





Jackie Zimmerman has been in the patient advocacy game for over a decade and has established herself as an authority on chronic illness, patient-centric healthcare, and patient community building. She lives with multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, and depression.

You can find her online at, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.



Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Haunted Asylums’ Episode

Editor’s NotePlease be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.

Announcer: You’re listening to Not Crazy, a Psych Central podcast. And here are your hosts, Jackie Zimmerman and Gabe Howard.

Jackie: Hello and welcome to Not Crazy. I’m here with my co-host, who is Gabe Howard. And this year for Halloween, he’s going as your friendly neighborhood bipolar beanstalk.

Gabe: I like being a bipolar beanstalk, and I am here with Jackie Zimmerman, who not only lives with depression, but when I invited her to my Halloween party, she said, “Oh, hell no, they’ll be kids there.”

Jackie: I don’t like kids. It’s not my thing. I hate kids.

Gabe: You are not required to like children. Now, as the audience has probably figured out, we’re doing a Halloween episode and we decided to take the most serious mental health advocacy point, one that always makes national headlines, big, massive organizations take this on to fight it. It’s a real serious thing in mental health advocacy.

Jackie: Is it that serious? I know we’re doing an episode on this, but is this really a thing that happens every year that people care about that much?

Gabe: Every year it makes national news, every year it makes the local news, the national news. It makes the paper. I read about this issue constantly.

Jackie: Whoa, whoa. You read the paper?

Gabe: I mean, online. I read the online paper.

Jackie: The digital?

Gabe: Google’s a paper, right?

Jackie: I read the digital paper.

Gabe: I read the digital paper.

Jackie: We’re talking about haunted asylums. And I have feelings.

Gabe: You have feelings on everything, and in a previous episode, you said that the best part about being a young blonde white woman is that you can be offended by everything. And it’s OK. Like, I genuinely and honestly feel like this is one of those things that is just not that big of a deal. It’s just not that offensive. I’m sorry. It’s not.

Jackie: You know, Gabe, first of all, I am offended by everything and I’m allowed to do that based on all the things that you said, but also because I have this lovely platform where I can tell people how offended I am and win them over. So in this scenario, I do think that haunted asylums are offensive, like the portrayal of mental illness in them. These subconscious things that they are giving to the people who attend them. I just don’t feel like they’re helping anything. What’s the point? What’s the point?

Gabe: I love that you said what’s the point? Because the point is not mental health advocacy. The point is to scare people. It’s a Halloween attraction. You plop down your 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 dollars because some of these things are just really elaborate and you go in to get scared. It’s fun. It’s a holiday. I just I understand that there’s a nuance. There’s a nuanced debate to be had here. And we’re not going to have it. But I’m sorry. I really just have a hard time believing that any rational or reasonable person thinks that a haunted asylum or haunted house with crazy psychos is an actual representation of mental illness. I’m sorry. I think that it is so over the top that it is obviously not anything except for a Halloween fun thing.

Jackie: I read a lot of articles about this because, of course, I did. And in those articles, there are various people who have attended these things and walked in and been massively triggered, first of all, by what was happening. There was one where this woman took her two small sons. She lives with mental illness. She’d been hospitalized. And they left and her sons asked her, “Is that what happened when you went into the hospital?” and she had to sort of undo what they just saw and teach them the correct things about her hospitalization. It’s not so much that I think people walk in and they go, oh, this is what happens to people with mental illness or this is what happens in the hospital. It’s more or less that what people are walking away with is that people with mental illness are dangerous. Right. And when they go to the hospital, all these dangerous things happen. If they take over or they become in control, they’ll chase me with chainsaws and they’ll come after you. And it’s like a subconscious thought process. I don’t think anybody leaves feeling in danger. I think it’s one more thing that society crams into our brains subconsciously that tells us to be afraid of people with mental illness.

Gabe: That is probably true. I honestly can’t think of anything that is untrue in that statement, except that it’s not society’s responsibility to make sure that every single person is not triggered or bothered or offended or I mean, sincerely, where does that end? I am from Ohio. You are from Michigan. I am offended by Michigan because of a football rivalry that started before my grandfather was born. I am offended. Listen, you don’t have to not be from Michigan or mention Michigan around me. And frankly, if I sincerely believe this, which I don’t, I’m not a crazy football person, although Michigan sucks, it is important to understand that if I actually treated you poorly, your response to that is not to make sure that you never mentioned your home state around me. It’s my response to like find a way to deal with this. And in your example, you actually said she took her children to a haunted house with violence and murder and had to explain to her young child. Really? Where is the responsibility on her? So murder is okay. Violence is okay. Haunted thing’s killing you and scaring you were okay. But she didn’t like the tie-in to mental health issues. Wow. Okay. Yeah. All right. Next.

Jackie: Ok. Fair point. I can’t argue with that point. I still think that there is some onus on the people who are setting up these haunted houses, haunted asylums, Cedar Fair, which is a company that owns like Cedar Point or some of these other really large amusement parks that do haunted things in October have started changing the names of them. It’s not so much what they are doing in them. It’s the names that they’re giving them a words matter, right. So calling it a haunted asylum or even like a haunted mental institution, some of these things have horrible names. They’re changing them to just haunted hospitals or hospitals. I don’t know other names that I don’t remember, but it’s taking away this part of it that is directed specifically at the mental illness community. And I think that’s really important because not only are they showing these really awful things that people are going mental illness. We’re talking about society here again, where society doesn’t know a lot about inpatient treatment. They know what they learn in movies and they know what they learn on television shows. This is one more thing that society sees in conjunction with inpatient treatment. And they just chug that in the back of their head and go, OK, well, this is what happens in inpatient facilities.

Gabe: You’re not wrong. 

Jackie: I know.

Gabe: There is misinformation everywhere. For example, on television, we see cars routinely driven off of the third floor parking garage, you land on the ground and keep going. That’s utter nonsense. We see movies where people get into fights and just get punched in the face like full power 20, 30 times. No problem. People get shot and they’re OK. It’s a flesh wound. Pop culture is not a good place to get information. It just isn’t. And this is an example of that. This is not a good place to get information. Why is that not the talking point? Why is the talking point not Americans are stupid and keep relying on fiction to get their facts?

Jackie: That is a talking point, I mean, again, you’re not wrong, but people are doing this, they are going to pop culture for information. How many times have people said, oh, I know about that, I saw it in Grey’s Anatomy or on House? People are learning from these shows. And again, it’s not so much the violence, which that’s like a whole other thing. It’s the representation of the mental illness community. This would never fly in cancer if you walked into a haunted house and there was an osteosarcoma patient on a table and somebody with a chainsaw was cutting their leg off. And then that person chased you around and was like, I’m going to cut your leg off because you have cancer. That wouldn’t happen. That doesn’t happen for any other illness other than mental illness.

Gabe: I’m going to disagree with you there because we’ve all seen the crazy surgeon. Huh, I guess crazy is in there. You’re right. I guess I guess mental illness is there

Gabe: Where they remove your brain.

Jackie: Point my team.

Gabe: Look what you did.

Jackie: And don’t you think to some extent that these representations of mental hospitals in these haunted asylums are scaring people away if they actually need treatment?

Gabe: There is where you’re going to win another point because yes, yes, I do. But let me ask you this, Jackie, on the side of mental asylums are offensive. Which do you think keeps more people away from treatment, haunted mental asylums or severe lack of funding and resources for people with mental illness?

Jackie: Well, obviously, I’m going to pick the resources, but that’s not the topic of this show, Gabe. 

Gabe: Of course not.

Jackie: We’re talking about haunted asylums.

Gabe: But I think that is the point, because haunted asylums make national news every single year, every single year, they become an advocacy point. But every single day in this country, every single day, somebody with mental illness will die because they don’t have resources. And it’s not. Oh, no, no, no, they are staying at home because the haunted asylums scared them. No, they are trying. Their families are trying. They are working desperately to get well, but they can’t get any single resources. And yet, strangely, hello, national media. Why aren’t we covering these people? We’re not.

ackie: I don’t know. Maybe it’s because the conversations we give people around mental illness have to do with things that they’ve learned in pop culture, in haunted asylums, where we don’t think that they deserve funding, they don’t deserve help because they’re all crazy and dangerous. They’re going to hurt everybody anyway.

Gabe: Let’s talk about that for a moment. I love that you walked right into that trap. So you believe this? Society believes that every single person with mental illness is dangerous and violent and a threat to us. And the response to that is to completely decimate the mental health safety net and just let them all walk around homeless, untracked, and consequence free. Now listen, I’m not saying that all people with mental illness are homeless. But I am saying that if society really believes, I mean, if society really believes that people with mental illness are responsible for all the violence, why are we doing so little to help them? You think maybe they don’t believe that? You think maybe that society doesn’t actually believe that?

Jackie: No, I think society doesn’t think about it. I don’t think that they care. There’s not a season for mental illness, right? There’s a season for Halloween. That’s why it makes the news, because it’s relevant and current. It also is a good headline. Mental illness as a whole. Lack of resources. Homelessness. All of these things happen all the time, year round. We’re completely desensitized to it. It’s not newsworthy anymore.

Gabe: I completely agree with that. I don’t know what that has to do with whether or not haunted asylums are offensive, but I can tell you that that is incredibly offensive to me. We have so many people who are in harm’s way that it’s not newsworthy anymore. But you’re right, haunted asylums are the problem. Let’s talk about that some more.

Jackie: I’m not saying haunted asylums are the entire problem. But you mentioned why is this not in the news more? Why are we talking about haunted asylums in the news? And this is why I’m not saying it’s right that we’re desensitized to it. In fact, I think it’s absolutely fucking terrible that we are desensitized to it. But we are. That’s why we’re here. That’s why nobody cares anymore about these terrible things that are happening to even people like veterans. Right. We’re supposed to really care about our veterans and we just don’t we don’t give a shit. But when something happens,

Gabe: Hey, hey, hey. That is not true. Every sporting event that I go to, we always stand for the veterans. Now we cut all their funding in the V.A. Hospitals have maggots in a bit, but no, every single sporting event, we always have a moment of silence. So don’t tell me that we don’t do enough for our veterans.

Jackie: Ok. Well, you know, you win that one, Gabe.

Gabe: But it is analogous, right? We have veterans that we are not giving enough resources to. That’s not making the news, but somebody kneels in front of a flag. Oh, my God. The veterans. The veterans. And again, I’m not trying to open up that debate. Please don’t. Just the things that we’re getting upset about. I don’t think are the root cause of the problem. I cannot get around the idea that haunted asylums have offensive parts to them and that they’re based on stereotypes and myths and things that aren’t true. I will give you that. You win. I just don’t think that this is a big advocacy point at all. Frankly, I can’t wait until I do, because as soon as I think that this is worth my time, it means everything else is resolved. All of this other stuff has been fixed and Gabe is thinking, well, shit, I have put a lot of time into becoming a mental health advocate. I don’t want to end my career, so. Yeah. Asylum’s, I guess.

Jackie: We’ll be right back after this message from our sponsor.

Announcer: Interested in learning about psychology and mental health from experts in the field? Give a listen to the Psych Central Podcast, hosted by Gabe Howard. Visit or subscribe to The Psych Central Podcast on your favorite podcast player.

Announcer: This episode is sponsored by Secure, convenient, and affordable online counseling. Our counselors are licensed, accredited professionals. Anything you share is confidential. Schedule secure video or phone sessions, plus chat and text with your therapist whenever you feel it’s needed. A month of online therapy often costs less than a single traditional face to face session. Go to and experience seven days of free therapy to see if online counseling is right for you.

Gabe: And we’re back debating haunted asylums.

Jackie: But doesn’t it bother you ever when people think about mental health, mental illness, treatment, the history of all of these things that some people think? Some of this stuff is still real when people talk to you about your treatment. Doesn’t it bother you that they think that lobotomies are still regularly practiced and all of these stereotypes that are perpetuated in the news, in the media, in haunted asylums?

Gabe: You know, it’s an interesting thing that you said, you said. Doesn’t it bother you that people think that it’s still true? Doesn’t it bother you that people think that this is still being done in hospitals? You recognize that? What you said is that at one point in American history, all of the stuff that’s currently happening in haunted asylums actually happened. They’re not based on false. They’re based on fact. They’re based on facts from the past. But they’re still based on facts. We lobotomized people with mental illness. You’re right. Now it is an attraction. And you know that’s kind of weird feeling, but

Jackie: Weird?

Gabe: I feel weird about a lot of things.

Jackie: Weird? It’s a weird feeling? Isn’t that like a terrible gut punch that people are using lobotomies and shock treatments for entertainment value?

Gabe: Yeah, but I don’t feel that way when I read a true crime novel or I watch Snapped or Forensic Files. I don’t feel that way when I watch Law & Order. And, you know, there’s two versions of that. One where they follow murderers around for our amusement. One where they follow rapists around for our amusement. Doesn’t that bother you, Jackie? Isn’t that just a big gut punch, that rape and murder is used for our entertainment? Oh, my God. So what, is mental illness special? Everything is exploited. Everything. Why is mental illness so special? What about all of these other awful things that happen? Listen, for real. Nothing that you said is wrong, but nothing that I have said is wrong. And I don’t know where the middle ground on that is. I am telling you, as a person who lives with severe and persistent mental illness, as a person who has been blamed for violence, as a person who has been fired from his job, as a person who has been discriminated against and stigmatized against and frankly just treated like shit because of an illness that I didn’t ask for. It’s a God awful, misunderstood illness. But I want to be very, very clear. Haunted asylums and haunted houses. Yeah, they didn’t factor in one iota to my suffering and spending any time trying to eradicate the haunted asylum problem. Yeah, it’s not gonna help Gabe Howard in any way. And truthfully, I don’t think it’s gonna help anybody in any way.

Jackie: I don’t know about that, Gabe. It might not help you personally, but what is the harm in erasing just the verbiage “haunted asylum” and turning it into “haunted hospital,” right? You’re right. We’re never going to erase the attraction to violence. We’re never going to have society go, this is all appalling. Let’s stop paying to go watch people get cut up on a table. It’s not going to happen. But what we can do, a very simple quick fix is removing the tie to mental illness and then walking away from it. You can choose whether or not you go in there, but they’re gonna advertise it on billboards. They’re gonna put it everywhere. They’re going to continue to subconsciously shove that information into your brain, whether you like it or not. And that goes for everybody else who sees that information..

Gabe: Why? Why is that reasonable? In general, when we see things in pop culture, we think, oh, that’s not going to happen. We all know that cars can’t do that. We all know that people can’t get shot and call it a flesh wound. We understand that there’s some differences there,

Jackie: Do we?

Gabe: But I really do think we do sincerely. I mean, honestly,

Jackie: I don’t.

Gabe: I just.

Jackie: I don’t know that I agree with you on that one. I think society as a whole are idiots and a lot of what we see in pop culture, in just general entertainment. Not that we look at and go, that’s real, Grand Theft Auto totally happens. But we have takeaways where they get, like I said, they get implanted in your brain and you just think that is a thing or that is reasonable or things like that could potentially happen.

Gabe: That’s probably true. And if we had a pop culture podcast, we would do a hell of an episode on it. Focusing in on using haunted asylums, the outrage about haunted asylums, to further our message, I just want to discuss why people believe this. Why can’t any of the articles go with, you know, in the not too distant past, this haunted asylum would have just been an asylum? We did do lobotomies. We did give people medication against their will. There is a lot of psychiatric trauma in the past of people with mental illness that we have to acknowledge. When I was first diagnosed, I honestly thought that the government was going to put me in a group home or store me away. I thought I was a disposable person, all because I heard the phrase, Sir, you have bipolar disorder. 

Jackie: I almost feel like you’re fighting on my side of this argument a little bit in your discussion about the past and what happened and how we need to talk about that. Those are the things that people are afraid of. They’re afraid of what happened in those hospitals. That’s why they’re using it as the basis for these haunted asylums. It’s scary. People go there to be scared. Yes, it’s dressed up now. And it’s almost comical how bad the costuming is. But the root of it is that these hospitals were scary. Mental illness is scary. We are gonna go there to see people who are going to scare us and we’re gonna leave going, man, that guy who is getting electroshock therapy, that was scary. And then we’re gonna move on with our lives. Nobody looks at it and goes, well, this is an unrealistic portrayal of what happened. And we know that this was a real history and we know that it was really terrible what we did to those people who had no say in their treatment plans. That doesn’t happen. All they leave with is that’s a scary thing. And what are we gonna have for dinner now?

Gabe: I don’t know what people actually leave with when they say, but let’s talk about another talking point that could come out of this. You’re buying a ticket to the Haunted Asylum because it scares you and it is a game for you. And you know that you’re free to leave. And the reason that you’re scared is because psychiatric care and mental illness is scary. If we can connect all those things together in the minds of every single person that buys a ticket, maybe they’ll have more compassion and understanding for people battling mental illness. Today, tomorrow and the next day, because you bought the ticket, because you’re scared of mental illness and you don’t live with it. You’re just a tourist. I live with it. That’s why I’m scared. And that’s why telling me to do yoga or go for a walk or commune with nature isn’t gonna work. Because at the end of the hour, I’m not done. I don’t get my picture taken. I don’t get a high. I survived bipolar. Anything. It’s not fake blood and fake tears and acting. It’s my life. And, yeah. It’s not done. As soon as November hits and I can, you know, celebrate Thanksgiving, that’s what I have all year round. I want there to be a better understanding of that or I want people to acknowledge that as complete and utter nonsense. And it’s just a way to have fun. And society exploits everything, to have fun and to make money. And in this way, they’re treating me like an equal. It’s very complex. And people don’t do well with nuance because I think even as people are listening to me like I don’t understand. Am I on Gabe’s side or Jackie’s side? There is no clear winner here. That is honestly how I see it.

Jackie: Some of what you just said, I don’t understand. I can’t fathom how you can say that and still think that it doesn’t matter that these things exist. Everything you just said about your experience, about the take away that is perpetuated by these terrible freakin’ places and it just makes me want to like choke you a little bit, like shake you. Gabe, you just proved my point in your sentence and then you unproved it two sentences later.

Gabe: I get that a lot. Yeah. I just don’t think we’re gonna make it go away. I don’t even think that’s a worthwhile goal worth trying.

Jackie: But it’s not unreasonable. There are stories about these haunted asylums and the other silly names that they use. The proprietors of these things, changing the names or removing scenes from them that perpetuate these terrible things. It’s not like this is an unattainable goal. This is a relatively simple thing that may or may not have a large impact. It may not change your daily life or my daily life, but it could change the lives of one or two people who maybe are too afraid to get treatment now, who have to explain this to their families. You wanted to change the conversation. I think removing these things helps us to change the conversation, because the conversation right now is this is what happens in mental hospitals.

Gabe: Yeah, Jackie, I don’t disagree. If all of the names were changed tomorrow, I don’t think that would be a bad thing. But I also don’t think it would be a good thing. I think it would be an irrelevant thing. I think it would just be a thing that happened. And that’s where I really get stuck on when I’m having this conversation year after year after year after year. You know what I’d actually like? I would like all of these haunted asylums to put up a sign. And I would like that sign to say this is fiction. This is a stereotypical portrayal designed to scare you. And the reason that it’s scary is because mental illness is a frightening disorder. And while we are providing this as entertainment only, you should take a moment to consider that people that live with these illnesses need resources and support that society may not be providing them. Please visit your local and then boom. Get a mental health charity to not sponsor but be there to hand out information or just have the brochure or the website or something. Hand out a little card when everybody leaves. I think that there is an opportunity to educate people with the correct information after they see the misinformation and places aren’t doing that. But instead we’re trying to erase our history. We’re trying to erase the part where we abused psychiatric patients. We’re trying to erase the part where we’re still abusing psychiatric patients. And these are just the things that I think about every October when all of these things make national news as if it’s, I don’t know, new.

Jackie: Gabe, that feels like a mic drop moment. I don’t think you won this. I don’t think I won this. But I am curious to see what the listeners think.

Gabe: And the listeners can e-mail us at and give us their opinions. Disagree with me. Disagree with Jackie. It’s okay. We want the conversation to continue. We also want you to stick around after the credits and listen to our hilarious outtake that’s put together by Lisa, our tortured editor, that does a great job putting these shows together. And also share us on social media, like us wherever you can find us. Tell all of your friends about us, wherever you download his podcast, give us a five star review and use your words. It helps raise us in the rankings and we will see everybody next week.

Jackie: See ya.

Announcer: You’ve been listening to Not Crazy from Psych Central. For free mental health resources and online support groups, visit Not Crazy’s official website is To work with Gabe, go to To work with Jackie, go to Not Crazy travels well. Have Gabe and Jackie record an episode live at your next event. E-mail for details. 

[Outtake not transcribed, you have to listen!]

Announcer: Our outtakes have a sponsor, so keep listening. . .

Gabe: Hey, Not Crazy fans, it turns out that we like jumping up and down on trampolines, because trampolines are pretty badass. It’s just something that we like to do. And it’s really cool because we have a great sponsor, Vuly Play. Vuly is awesome and you can save up to $1,188 on their trampoline models. It’s pretty damn easy. Again, save up to $1,188 and support the people that support the show. There’s always free delivery, there’s always a free shade cover and discounts are everywhere! Check out them out here now. Talk soon, bye!



Podcast: Haunted Asylums – Stigmatizing or Just Entertainment?

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APA Reference
Podcast, N. (2019). Podcast: Haunted Asylums – Stigmatizing or Just Entertainment?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Oct 2019 (Originally: 28 Oct 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 30 Oct 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.