The Joker & Mental Health in Society

Our thoughts are continually shaped through popular culture’s advertisements, movies, music, and fashion. This is great entertainment, so long as we can deconstruct the finer nuances, not dismissing them outright for shaping our worldviews on mental illness. To not do this leaves us open to pushing stereotypes about those under mental strain that may not be accurate.

The Joker portrays an earlier, yet accurate reflection of a modern-day society that has lost its sense of empathy and compassion. It does a good job reflecting a current culture but leaves room for fierce debate for its depiction of mental illness through the main character, Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix. The movie gets some overarching themes correct about struggling with mental health hardships. There are also some finer points we need to give more attention to.

People who suffer from mental health issues are more likely to face isolation, mistreatment, and abuse.

Although those with mental health concerns have a higher likelihood of being abused, isolated, or mistreated, It does NOT mean that these same people have a greater chance of doing this to others. Arthur has pretty consistent and pervasive mental health concerns but additionally holds a criminal mindset. This should not be mistaken to mean that criminal mindsets and mental health concerns come as a package.

Failure to allocate financial and systemic treatment for mental health creates higher rates of poverty, incarceration, substance use and crime for all.

Higher rates of poverty, incarceration, substance use and crime are NOT caused by mental illness. However, those with severe and persistent mental illness are likely to exhibit these markers due to longitudinal lack of treatment, support, and services. One contributing factor (Alcohol) greatly increases all acts of violence. so this must be mentioned. But when this is controlled for, studies show no more risk of you being harmed by someone with a mental illness then by the general population. In short, mental illness in itself does not mean that a person is predisposed to violent behavior.

The call for resources to support mental health needs is high with the offerings astonishingly low.

Resources are astonishingly low for those “in need” and remain astonishing low for society altogether. Ten million adults have an unmet need for mental health treatment this number has not improved since 2011. This does not include the two million youth that are in need of mental health treatment.

Although the focus of this movie was on the Joker, society (as portrayed in this movie) has enough people that are now suffering and sympathetic with the Joker to support his chaos. The masses become equally affected by the lack of empathy and compassion. Which is worse, one person who is a reflection of the wrongs of society determined to inflict this on others, or a larger body not as easily identifiable with the same motivation to spread this around?

It is unlikely that those who suffer will stand out as severely compromised and deliberately as the Joker. Sure there will be a few exceptions as we see on the news now regularly, but isn’t it more likely that we share bits and pieces of the Joker within us? Each of us still struggling to be noticed and feel as though we have purpose and meaning?

Next time you see someone who you think is exhibiting stress, please ask, “how are you?” It could make the difference to a society that is rarely asked that question.

The movie is about mental health in our society, but it used the Joker to get your attention.