‘Joker’ Tells the Truth About ‘Mental Illness’ and It’s Long Overdue


From The Toronto Star: “Finally, here was the much-needed righteous indignation that had been conspicuously absent from any recent film about madness I’ve seen. Here was a movie that said, loudly and clearly, exactly what needs to be said, which is: screw the just-go-get-help discourse that’s been dominating our discussions about mental illness. Because things are not all right. The system is really broken.

This was a movie that was making me feel understood, and I didn’t realize how much I needed that.

When the words ‘Observation Room,’ appeared in big, bold letters on the wall of the hospital room where the Joker bangs his head, in gestures suggestive of autistic stimming, I almost wanted to break into the chorus of ‘hallelujah.’

Although we are outraged over their use with prisoners, no one seems to care that isolation rooms, commonly called observation rooms, are still a standard part of treatment for mental illness in many Canadian hospitals, although they are inhumane and studies have repeatedly shown they can make mental illness worse.

There’s a poster hanging in the Joker’s social worker’s office that reads: ‘It’s normal to feel trapped.’

Is it really?

Or is it just normal for people like me?

No one really listens to him or cares about what happens him. He can’t get his medication adjusted, and eventually, his barely effective services get cut. All stuff many people would describe as a normal part of being a mental health patient.

Before I saw the film, I worried it would make a false association between mental illness and violence. The myth that mentally ill people are dangerous threats to society is one of the most harmful stereotypes out there. Studies have repeatedly shown the rates of violence are about the same in the general population as they are with mental health patients.

But what the movie does quite brilliantly is make it clear that contrary to popular belief, anger and violence are not symptoms of any mental illness. Rather, they are normal reactions to a lifetime spent being treated like an outcast, ignored, taken advantage of, disbelieved, bullied and abused.”

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  1. I am frankly horrified that Mad in America would choose to circulate *anything* positive about this film.

    The article above says: “But what the movie does quite brilliantly is make it clear that contrary to popular belief, anger and violence are not symptoms of any mental illness. Rather, they are normal reactions to a lifetime spent being treated like an outcast, ignored, taken advantage of, disbelieved, bullied and abused.”

    Are you kidding me?!?! Wouldn’t it be lovely were this were true. It’s not.

    Sure, people who are already familiar with trauma narratives will be able to pull this idea out of the muck. And yes, the film is well acted, and all that, bit let’s be serious here.

    You have a film where a guy talks about needing his psych drugs increased, only to be his psych services are being cut… Then he laments he won’t be able to get more psych drugs with his services cut. Then he exclaims how he’s off his ” meds” right before *murdering* someone for the first time on screen (goodness only knows why he was previously locked up), and then to top it all off, he explicitly refers to himself as “mentally ill” immediately before shooting another person to death.

    And you think the film doesn’t make connections between “mental illness” (particularly “untreated” by definition of the current mental health system) and violence?

    Forget the (somewhat) “woke” folks who will be able to recognize the trauma narrative… what do you think the average person will take away from it? And how can a site like Mad in America willingly participate in that?

    So disappointed.

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    • Yeah it is pro-“meds” Sera. I thought the same.

      BTW, the Mental Illness System only seems broken to those who go to it for help. Psychiatry exists to create outcasts who will never be believed. To exonerate those who bully and abuse the scapegoats it appoints, enhancing the self esteem of the “normal.” And–above all–sell as many drugs as possible by whatever means possible and silence those damaged by the drugs.

      Do you want to achieve these goals?
      1. Become an outcast.
      2. Never have anyone believe you.
      3. Have the whole world bully you.
      4. Spend life caught in an abusive situation where the law always sides with your abuser.
      5. Have your human needs automatically ignored and dismissed by everyone.
      6. “Volunteer” (more or less) to participate in terrifying experiments which should only exist in horror flicks.

      If so be sure to seek out help at the nearest mental center.

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    • I strongly agree, Sera. I am very disappointed to see that this website has published an article that sees the movie positively. While the movie does suggest that the “mentally ill” are troubled for psycho-social reasons instead of innate reasons, it still shows a world where the “mentally ill” are just one or two missed doses of neuroleptics away from going on a stabbing spree. I have been appalled by the positive response society has had to the movie, and now that even Madinamerica.com has written approvingly of it, I am now just confused that they have missed what is so wrong about the film. Maybe the editors never saw it.

      The average viewer is going to come away from the movie saying, “Better to keep them medicated… maybe even locked up.”

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      • You got that right!
        I actually prefer A Beautiful Mind’s depiction of someone labeled “mentally ill” despite its flagrant inaccuracies and NAMI approved message. At least it doesn’t show Nash turning into a comic book villain from going off his neuroleptics.

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  2. “anger and violence are not symptoms of any mental illness. Rather, they are normal reactions to a lifetime spent being treated like an outcast, ignored, taken advantage of, disbelieved, bullied and abused.”

    In whatever context this is expressed, it is classic and very obvious programming to discredit and continue to target victims of abuse, to protect a system of abusers and those who enable it–i.e., status quo.

    What playing the role of scapegoat leads to, in actual reality, is clarity about what is abuse and who are the abusers. And hopefully, with good healing and staying focused on the goal of social justice, how to stop it dead in its tracks, rather than to perpatuate it, emulate it, or feed it in any way shape or form. It’s tricky, because at this point the gaslighting is in full swing, but doable if we are alert and self-aware. It’s also necessary to ascend this double-bind (it’s a textbook example of it), if we want change of any kind that is actually meaningful and geared toward truth, well-being, and unequivocal justice.

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  3. It would seem to me that a person can only be excluded by an exlusive group, and exclusive groups can exclude anyone, so everyone is vulnerable to being excluded. I think this is how a lot of the world operates, and this is one of the reasons why we have mental institutions.

    In my own life I have experience of being in some generally inclusive groups. Some human environments naturally operate like this.

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  4. It looks like the movie Unsane takes a more realistic look at psychiatry than Joker.

    The funny part of Unsane is how it’s viewed as some sort of unusual scandal the psych hospital locks people up as long as insurance covers it. And gets shut down when this Unusual Scandal comes to light.

    Bwahahaha! 😀
    Naive screenplay writers.

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  5. You comment R777 about becoming a comic book villain from med withdrawal is a very good point. I will do more thinking on it, but I have to disagree that A Beautiful Mind is less damaging.

    I like art that starts a conversation. I’ve had many productive discussions about the realities of psychiatry today as a result of movies. I saw One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest for the first time in a locked ward that looked very much like the one in the movie. We even had a bus the same vintage. It was standing room only after a long battle with staff who did not think it was “safe” for patients to see. (Ironic that I chose it randomly from the patient movie store with a ticket from the head nurse. hahaha)

    Maybe my perspective is different because I saw Joker without ever seeing a batman or any MC movie or reading any comics. So I didn’t have knowledge of what it means to be “Joker”. No notions of villian or hero.

    There are so many illustrations in Joker of how society must do better and of how it feels to be punished for being punished. For being different. The stop meds = kill is too simplified a conclusion. There are other ways to see it that have nothing to do with being Woke or not. This is art imitating life. Banning it from spaces like MIA for fear the public will get a wrong idea, an idea that has been being promoted for generations now, is kind of like the head nurse not wanting us to see “One Flew…” because we may get “ideas”.

    MIA blog criteria is, does it ask us to rethink psychiatry? In my opinion, Joker does EXACTLY that.

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