A lot of actors (touch or no touch policy) for haunted houses TYPICALLY are trained in how to react in an “oh shit” situation when it comes to PHYSICAL reactions. However, little to no are trained in how to reaction with a mental health situation.
So, to try to make things at least a little bit safer, please read on. This might involve some basic changes in the administration of the haunted house, so you are warned!
Haunted houses can be a place full of potential things that trigger a PTSD type panic attack. Many people avoid them like the plague for this reason. However, others try to test their limits. Make a warning sign (near the ticket booth, on your website, etc) outlining SPECIFIC potential triggering substances (even if it seems silly like corpses, blood, fake gore, etc).
Here’s a list of common triggers found in a lot of haunted houses that might prove useful:
- Blood/gore/severed body parts/organs exposed
- Strobe lights (If you have any kind of electrical device that makes bright lights flash in front of people, DO NOT do this in front of a guest’s eyes, this can cause temproary blindness)
- Common phobias (spiders, bees, clowns, snakes, etc) DO NOT use ANY live animals of ANY sort! You are endangering both the animal and your guest at this point!
- Tell if the actors can touch you or not. If they can, have a waiver that outlines EVERY LITTLE THING, actually give them time to read it in a safe/sane situation (aka not right at the haunt) and GIVE THEM A LEGAL COPY. You might thing this sounds “frivolous”…but people are eager to sue when under stress. MANY haunted houses have gotten in legal trouble because of “loopholes” from the waivers. So my advice? No touch policies only. You can scare the shit out of someone WITHOUT having to punch them/trip them/etc.
- Car alarms (or any other loud noises)
- Feces or urine
- Any kinds of weapons (guns, swords, axes, etc)
You might think “I might as well just describe the whole damn tour then”. You don’t have to explain the entire tour. Just mention specific objects/incidents (like listed above) for them. If you would like, ask a group online for anonymous feedback on your list (or ask someone in your own administrative team to look over it to see if there’s anything you missed).
PANIC ATTACKS / ANXIETY ATTACKS
Panic attacks happen when you DO NOT expect something to happen. Anxiety attacks happen when you ANTICIPATE something happening. How can you tell the difference in a very high stressful haunt situation? Look at it like this:
If you get scared, there’s typically a BRIEF moment of panic. You scream, you run, you try to punch, whatever your natural “panic” mode does. This only only mere seconds before your brain tries to get ahold of itself again. It’s your natural “fight vs flight” instinct when you get in such a high state of panic.
HOWEVER, for panic and anxiety attacks….it’s more.
Here are some symptoms:
- If your guest just stops dead in their tracks
- if they scream….and scream…and scream
- If they are visibly shaking for more than 10 seconds and look dazed/in another world
- If they collapse, or their legs shake the point that they can no longer stand
- If the guest says “I’m having a heart attack!” or something similar, it’s very likely they’re in the midst of a panic attack
- If your guest complains of extreme feelings of nauseousness (nothing to your knowledge has caused them to feel this, like bad food)
- Complaints of lower back pain (this is a physical sign of PTSD) with no apparent injury
If you’re unsure of if they’re having a panic attack, ESTABLISH A SAFE WORD PRIOR TO GOING THROUGH THE HAUNT. Use a word that’s easy to remember, but not one they’d normally say (no, stop, etc. is not a safeword. HOWEVER, if your guest says “no, stop”, i.e. revoking consent at any time, you stop what you’re doing or push them towards the next scare, use your common sense when a guest can no longer continue, we’ll explain this more later). Some safewords might be any kind of food object. Tell your guest to use the safe word any time they feel like they can no longer continue, they wish to leave, or they feel like they are on the verge of having a panic attack. You will not question how or why they use the word, you respect that they used the word, and you will help them out. YOU ARE ACCOMMODATING THE GUEST, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.
Another common safe word system is the traffic light system. Red means STOP whatever is happening. Yellow means you’re starting to approach the “stop right now line”, but you’re still ok to do more. Green means keep going, I’m ok.
HOW DO I KNOW WHEN A GUEST CAN NO LONGER CONTINUE?
Follow all the symptoms mentioned above. Also, if they are repeatedly asking “please, just let me leave” (or something of the sort) and it sounds like they’re on a CD stuck on “repeat”, let them leave. It is unlawful to hold someone against their will. As an actor or behind the scenes person in charge of a haunt, it is YOUR responsibility to keep them as safe as possible (for a haunted house).
WHAT NOT TO DO AT A HAUNT
Seriously, only do these things with explicit consent PRIOR to the person going anywhere near the haunt. Remind a guest to use their safe word.
- Sensory deprivation (essentially “cutting off” a sense, such as sight or sound)
- Water boarding (making the guest think they are drowning, DO NOT do this under ANY circumstance)
- Shoving a guest’s head under the water (panic/stress makes the average time for holding the breath DRASTICALLY shorter)
- Physically striking anywhere around the head (there are SO many dangers to this, including but not limiting to: brain damage, ear drums being burst, losing teeth, busted lips, etc,
DO NOT do this under ANY circumstance)
- Physically striking ANYWHERE near the lower back (kidney risk, which can poison the body,
DO NOT do this under ANY circumstance
- Shove food into the guest’s mouth (choking hazard, allergy hazard, cutting off airway hazard, could trigger eating disorder)
- Anything involving body fluids (risk transmitting diseases like HIV/AIDs, hepatitis, etc.)
- Use any props/weapons without proper training
Remember, your guest is in control of the scene. They have the power to stop the scene and revoke consent at any time. It is your duty to respect their wishes. This will help prevent any potential lawsuits.