A recently closed Halloween-themed attraction that was opposed by Kay Warren, wife of Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren, and others for stigmatizing people who live with mental illness is garnering new support in the form of an online petition calling for its reopening.
Earlier this week, it was announced that FearVR was going to be closed by the Buena Park, California-based Knott’s Berry Farm in response to outcry over its portrayal of a character suffering from mental illness.
An advocate for those with mental illness, Kay Warren was part of the successful effort to close down the Knotts Berry Farm attraction known as FearVR.
A virtual reality program that opened earlier this month, FearVR first gained controversy for its original name, 5150.
“The number ‘5150’ refers to a section of the California Welfare and Institutions Code, which authorizes a peace officer or clinician to involuntarily confine a person suspected to have a mental disorder that makes them a danger to themselves or others,” reported the Orange County Register.
“After emails, letters and phone calls from the National Alliance of Mental Illness’ Orange County Chapter and several mental health advocates across the country, Ohio-based Cedar Fair, the parent company of Knott’s, announced [Sept. 22] that it would remove the ‘5150’ from the attraction’s title.”
Warren, who’s son died by suicide after a lengthy battle with mental illness, posted a message on her Facebook page Monday calling for the FearVR attraction to be closed.
“Knots Berry Farm has a psychiatric ward with a demonic patient in their Halloween set. This is NOT entertainment. I’m infuriated that they use the pain and suffering of millions of people for laughs or thrills. Take it down,” wrote Warren.
On Thursday, Knott’s Berry Farm announced that FearVR would be closed, stressing that they never intended to demean those suffering from mental illness.
“Over the past week, we have heard from a number of people expressing concern that one of our temporary, Halloween attractions — Fear VR — is hurtful to those who suffer from mental illnesses,” stated the entertainment venue.
“Contrary to some traditional and social media accounts, the attraction’s story and presentation were never intended to portray mental illness.”
A petition on the activist website Change.org started by a resident of Inglewood, California, is now calling for the attraction to re-open and already has over 4,000 signatures.
“As someone who has spent the last eight years of my life studying psychology, currently working on a doctoral degree, I can safely say that making fun of mental illness was never something that was intended with the creation of this attraction,” stated the petition.
“The attraction description states that the antagonist ‘Katie’ is suffering from demonic possession, this has nothing to do with mental illness. If anyone should be mad, it would be the church for making light of the dangers of demonic possession, as likely as that is these days.”
The petition went on to suggest that once reopened “a blanket disclaimer should be made that states this is not meant to make light or … make fun of mental illness.”
“People are still going to be afraid of what they do not understand in regards to mental illness,” continued the petition. “The only thing that closing this attraction has done is lost the company money, caused many people to lose their jobs, and angered many who enjoyed it and those that had not yet had the chance to experience it.”