Opinion: Don’t take your date to an asylum for Valentine’s Day

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of Rural Insights or its members.


The following article was originally published on The Detroit News.

Asylums that “treated” individuals with mental illness have been a horror show for far too many people throughout our history. It should not become a spooky entertainment venue. Making a profit off human misery is cruel, immoral and inexcusable, but that is exactly what is being done by turning the former Eloise psychiatric hospital into a haunted house. The website for the Valentine Haunt for Valentine’s Day is very disturbing.

Equally offensive are the electronic, print and social media outlets that are helping to promote this for-profit venture. It is time to stop legitimizing this perverse “entertainment” that is incredibly hurtful to so many.

For those who have had family members and friends who receive treatment in a psychiatric hospital, such disregard and insensitivity for human suffering is downright inhuman and offensive.

We can’t imagine people thinking it would be “entertainment” to turn a former cancer treatment center into a haunted house. Getting laughs from watching cancer patients suffer in pain and fear is savage.

As two individuals who were responsible for leading Michigan’s mental health system, we find this “entertainment” offensive, ghoulish and insulting.

Mental illness impacts every ZIP code. It is an equal opportunity disease. Mental illness does not impact “those” people. It is not simply a statistic to recite. It affects our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters.

It’s been reported that Eloise Asylum says guests can purchase snacks upon entry and mingle with “monsters” in the lounge while music plays. For those looking for a more intimate

frightening experience, you can spend more on a “VIP offering,” according to Eloise Asylum. The VIP experience gives guests access to “specialty areas and experiences” including a paranormal tour of the fifth floor and the hydrotherapy room. They even offer for a price an “escape room” experience.

Since when is having fun and being entertained based on another person’s treatment at Eloise acceptable moral behavior?

Sadly, far too many in our community find this acceptable as the Valentine shows appear to be sold out.According to U.S. Surgeon General General Vivek Murthy, there is a mental health crisis in America, and it is characterized by high rates of depression, anxiety, drug use and suicide.

Stigma kills. A significant and effective way to eliminate it begins with the public display of support and engaging in conversation about the reality of mental illness. Equating a former psychiatric facility to a horror show plays into some of the worst stereotypes of mental illness.As a society, we need to stomp out stigma and anything else that prevents people struggling with mental health issues to get the help they need and deserve.It is time to stop perpetuating harmful myths.

Tom Watkins was deputy director and director of the Michigan Department of Mental Health from 1983-90. He was state superintendent from 2000-2005 and president and CEO of Detroit-Wayne Integrated Health Network from 2014-2017. Jim Haveman was director of the Michigan Department of Mental Health and Michigan Department of Community Health from 1991-2002 and the Department of Community Health Director from 2012-2014.

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Tom Watkins

Tom Watkins served the citizens of Michigan as state superintendent of schools, state mental health director and was the president and CEO of the Economic Economic Council of Palm Beach County, Fl. He is an international business and educational consultant.

Jim Haveman

Jim Haveman has been a frequent visitor to the UP since 1966. He is a former Board of Trustee Member of Northern Michigan University, and former Director of Michigan Department of Community Health for Governors Engler and Snyder.


  1. JRM on February 20, 2023 at 7:33 am

    Very powerful article; thank you

  2. […] By Tom Watkins and Jim Haveman: For Complete Post, Click Here… […]

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