The popular psychological thriller Joker, released this October, has turned heads in more than way one, becoming a topic of political satire and mental health debates. This dark comic book film has grossed over $1 billion.
There was fear that the movie would provoke mass shootings. In 2012, a shooter took 12 lives at an Aurora, Colorado theatre, during the Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises.
It is no secret that the media, including television, radio, movies, and social media all have a significant impact on our society.
(Obligatory SPOILER ALERT!)
Drawing Connections Between Mental Illness and Violence
There have been significant strides in raising awareness and eliminating the stigma when it comes to certain mental health disorders, specifically depression and anxiety.
However, psychotic mental illnesses such as schizophrenia still carry negative connotations. Films have the power to perpetuate stigma and fear around mental illness, and Joker is no different.
The Joker is, of course, an infamous villain. However, this Todd Phillips film paints the Joker in a sympathetic light.
This is complicated, as the character suffers from inadequate mental healthcare, employment struggles, being a victim of ridicule and violence, and caring for an ill mother.
It can also be argued that the plot connects the Joker’s mental illness to his violent behavior, in addition to his situational struggles.
What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash?” the Joker says, just before shooting his childhood hero in the face.
Mental Illness vs. Neurological Disorders
Mental illness is different from a neurological disorder. Although both involve the brain, testing and imaging can diagnose neurological disorders.
Mental health disorders are diagnosed based solely on clinical evaluation. The Joker seems to suffer from a neurological condition known as pseudobulbar affect, also called emotional incontinence.
Individuals who are diagnosed with pseudobulbar affect experience uncontrollable bursts of laughter or tears. This neurological condition is not linked to mood and does not have any connection with mental health disorders.
The Joker suffers from both this neurological condition and mental illness, which can be confusing to the audience, as he presents symptoms of both conditions.
Differentiating Fantasy from Reality
Movies and television can make it difficult to pick apart what is real and what is fantasy. Psychological thrillers can be very realistic and leave a lasting impression.
Violence, mass shootings, and real-life villains do exist in our society; however, when Hollywood links mental health to fear and violence, this can create a lot of unnecessary fear within our families, our society, and ourselves.
AKUA Mind and Body is a Southern California mental health and substance abuse treatment center offering services men and women.
They specialize in trauma, depression, addiction, anxiety, and other mental health disorders that are falsely depicted in many Hollywood films.
If you or a loved one is struggling with symptoms associated with a mental health disorder, the treatment team at AKUA Mind and Body can begin a thorough assessment of what treatment modalities will serve you best.