“This plot plays to the unfortunate and false stereotype that people with mental illness are violent,” one mental health expert laments.
The box office hit Joker has received a wave of critical backlash for its depiction of violence and mental health issues.
Dr. Ziv Ezra Cohen, who is a criminal psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical School, wrote an article for New York Daily News criticizing the controversial film.
“Some are wringing their hands over The Joker—concerned that it might glorify violence. I have a very different concern about the message it sends,” he writes.
Addressing The Stigma
Cohen mentioned that some reviews of the film have brought up concerns about the stigma surrounding mental illness. The character of Arthur Fleck, who eventually becomes the Joker, starts off in a mental hospital, then becomes more dangerous as he’s treated badly by the outside world.
“This plot plays to the unfortunate and false stereotype that people with mental illness are violent,” Cohen laments. “As a whole, people with mental illness have no increased rate of violence compared to anybody else, and they are more likely to be victims of crimes.”
And considering there have been fears of violence at theaters showing Joker, Cohen adds, “On a deeper level, the movie may well make connections in viewers’ minds between mental illness and mass violence… Research shows that people who commit mass shootings in the vast majority of crimes do no have a clear mental illness that would explain their behavior. In addition, 1% of gun violence is attributable to mental illness.”
In trying to analyze Joker, Cohen notes that “the brilliance of the character defies any psychiatric diagnosis. He does not show symptoms of delusions or a thought disorder that one would see in an illness like schizophrenia. He does not show the impulsiveness that one sees in many personality disorders and in bipolar disorder… A term we use in psychiatry to describe such people is psychopath.”
Starting A Conversation
As Julie Rael, chief clinical officer at a mental health facility in Salt Lake City told Fox 13, “I think [this movie] is creating conversations around how trauma can impact somebody’s well being. There is a statistic: 3-6% of people with mental illness commit crimes or are violent. People with mental illness are more likely to be harmed or harmed themselves.”