The Joker & Mental Health in Society

photo of a clown's face

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 of reflecting a current culture but leaves room for fierce debate regarding its depiction of mental illness through Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix. The movie gets some overarching themes correct about struggling with mental health hardships but there are finer points that need more attention.

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 they have a greater chance of doing this to others. Arthur has pretty consistent 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 illness are likely to exhibit these markers due to lack of treatment, support, and services. One contributing factor greatly increases all acts of violence. If you guessed alcohol or illicit drug consumption you are right. 

But when illicit substances are controlled, studies show no more risk of you being harmed by someone with a mental illness than by the general population. In short, mental illness does not mean that a person is predisposed to violent behavior.

The call for resources to support mental health remains high, but offerings are astonishingly low.

Resources are astonishingly low for those “in need” and remain low in 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 need mental health treatment.

Although the focus of this movie is on the Joker, society (as portrayed in this movie) has enough people that are suffering and sympathetic to 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 and determined to inflict this on others, or a larger body not as easily identifiable with the same motivation to spread it?

Those who suffer will not stand out as severely compromised and deliberate as the Joker. A few exceptions are seen regularly on the news but it’s more likely that we share pieces of the Joker within us! Each of us still struggling to be noticed and feel we have a purpose.

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 has rarely asked that question, until it was too late  

Learn more about EQ testing with Real Counseling Inc.

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