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  • Writer's pictureTony Slade

Horror is good for mental health?

So as you can guess by the fact that I own and run a horror/macabre art gallery called Nightmare Arts in Mount Holly NJ who's tagline is "Where nightmares are born", am a horror movie actor/voice actor/writer/director and run a séance show through The Undercover Unit ,I LOVE horror. No, love is too minimizing. I, at times, live and breathe because of the simple fact that I have horror in my life. Sounds extreme doesn't it? Well if I have to be honest with myself, it is sometimes. As someone who has PTSD from military, ems and police work, I often wonder if my passion is feeding and even worse, hindering my recovery, or at the very least the manageability of my PTSD.

As most people though, I had the question pop into my head and my creative brain said "don't worry about it. Look at me instead" and I moved on with life. I did revisit it once and asked my therapist the questions, but since it was lumped in with a bunch of other stuff I got the, "well it's good and bad" type answer and we kind of moved on. Fast forward to about a week ago. My partner came home with a shirt that said "Horror, you've been missing out" and then in smaller letters said mental health horror. Wait a minute! Back the truck up, beep beep beep! What the heck is mental health horror?! Before I get to that, I guess I should say that my partner has a doctorate in human sexuality and is the Director of Clinical Services as well as a therapist at The Center for Growth. She has been featured many times on TV, articles, news broadcasts etc. (I'm a little proud of her can you tell). So, the fact she would give me something related to mental health would normally not even raise an eyebrow but you had me at Horror my love.

Back to mental health horror. She dropped this t-shirt on the ever growing pile of inventory for Nightmare Arts taking over our living room. At this point, I was also in the middle of doing 1,000 different things at once as I usually do (which I am sure my shrink would say I do to avoid the PTSD stuff, but I digress). So I glanced at it and thought, oh that's cool, it's a horror shirt I can wear to the gallery, and moved on. She then told me it was from a Kickstarter campaign she ran across that had raised almost 50K at that point. This spoke to my film maker, horror fan and mental health brains (another tip I was given by my therapist identifying the different parts of my brain and identifying if those parts are healthy at that moment and processing accordingly). So I stopped the 1,000 things I was I was doing and listened. She went on to tell me that they plan to make a documentary on the positive effects of horror movies on our mental health. Wait a minute. How can nightmares be healthy? I have terrible nightmares all time and all they do is make me lose sleep, I thought in a flash. Then I started to process it all and thought, wait you have an outlet that lets you play out your fears, face your anger, put a label on your inner rage etc. You also have this at your fingertips everyday either through watching, selling or participating through film/stage characters (I'm not chopping anyone up anytime soon so don't worry) in horror related events. So, I guess nightmares are a good thing (Where nightmares are a good thing was the other tagline I considered for Nightmare Arts).

This started me down a little bit of a rabbit hole in that I found articles that said horror movies are really bad for us (although to be fair most seemed to push other agendas and how much credence can we put to that data I thought) . Then I found an article on Healthline which started out bad but then ended with "Despite being full of guts and gore, horror films can have positive effects on viewers too. Generally, people who watch horror films tend to enjoy them for a variety of reasons, so for most viewers, it is a positive impact. Watching horror films can also be an opportunity to confront one’s fears as the viewer withstands the horror and gets to enjoy the payoff of resolution. This can be especially true for viewers with certain mental health disorders. If someone is being treated for an anxiety disorder or OCD, horror movies can provide useful opportunities to face one’s fears and develop the confidence that you can, in fact, endure unpleasant distress, and that it’s not dangerous to you". OK, so some good some bad. I can live with that I guess. Hold up, what about this documentary? Is there more good than bad? There has to be if they are filling a 90 minute documentary about it I thought, so I plugged on.

This lead me to an article in Psychology Today entitled "Why is mental illness scary" by Praveen R. Kambam M.D. which said "Halloween allows us to face our fears in a safe way. We’re wired to experience a “fight-or-flight” response to threats, causing intense emotional and physical reactions. Halloween horror gives us this adrenaline rush and allows us to vicariously explore the forbidden, dark, and sinister without truly being exposed to danger. And in some small way, Halloween lets us expose ourselves to our fears and take steps toward gaining mastery over them." It went on to talk about how we have the tendency to label anyone with a mental illness as violent criminals i.e. "deranged murder", "escaped mental patient" "mad scientist" etc., which is more on the topic of the stigma of horror which I think will be my next blog topic, but again I digress (seeing a pattern here?) . Then I saw a ton of stickers, shirts etc. with sayings such as "I am mentally ill but I don't kill. Stop the stigma". Then I came across a blog owner simply named Juliann F where she talked about how horror video games (another passion of mine) are negative from her point of view because of their "use of derogatory or incorrect terminology, portraying asylums as dangerous or as torture houses, alternatively portraying mental health institutions as a place where people are driven to insanity, demonizing mentally ill people as violent monsters or as targets for attack (a caricature of ‘craziness’), depicting caretakers as vindictive, evil, or willfully acting against the best interest of patients" and was damaging to the mental health community as whole. Ugh! The Horror genre that I love so much is not fairing so well at this point. Although as he/she/they pointed out there are a many games that tackle mental illness in a positive light so there is a bright spot.

I read several other articles but to sum it up it all came down to the conclusion that at this point the jury is out on whether or not my beloved genre is good or bad for me. I guess I will have to wait for the documentary and have more data to come to some sort of educated decision. All in all, it all boils down to the simple fact that I love it and I feel it helps me, so I guess that is all that matters.

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