(May contain some spoilers) We saw The Joker yesterday. It was the most uncomfortable 2 hours and 2 minutes of my life. I twisted and turned, sat with my face in my hands, covered my ears, and felt like running from the theater. I needed a binge of Hallmark movies to try and undo what I had just seen.
When we left my daughter, who wanted to see it and the reason that we went, wanted to know what everyone thought. As, what some may call, movie addicts, that we left a movie and didn’t say a whole lot. I couldn’t put into words what I had just seen. I really just wanted to walk away like I had never seen it.
The truth is, I can’t “un” see it. I saw it. There were parts of it I understood because I lived it and in some ways still live it. Working with moms that are living a life caring for a child with mental illness, you can’t escape the stories and the heartbreak. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the average potential life lost to those with Schizophrenia is 28.5 years. In my experience, I have seen death caused by suicide, death caused by medication side-effects, death by murder, and death by accident. It is the reality of mental illness.
With all of this, I can’t just pretend like I never saw The Joker and go about life. There were important messages in the movie, that I hope others will consider when they encounter someone with a mental illness.
What The Joker Got Right About Mental Illness
Limited resources or services for those with mental illness and financial challenges.
In a few scenes, you see Arthur speaking with a woman in a dingy, dark, unorganized office. Later in the movie, she lets him know that their program has had financial cuts and they will be closing down. He looks at her and asks, “where will I get my medications?” In our experience, even without needing assistance from a government program, the availability of medications due to the challenges of finding a doctor that will take my daughter was overwhelming! Not to mention the time we lost with leaving her unmedicated, which can lead to a longer recovery period and impact the overall trajectory of the disease leaving her symptomatic and dangerous to herself. Some may think that it’s similar to having the flu – you have the flu – you get medication. I wish it were that easy for mentally ill patients to get care, but it isn’t. If you or someone you know struggles with the cost of medications, please check out Medicine Assistance Tool.
What you don’t understand, you make fun of.
This was a reoccurring and hurtful theme in the movie. It happened on the street, on a bus, on the subway, at work… you say a scene and it happened. It’s a normal reaction to feel uncomfortable when we witness something that we don’t understand. It’s a protection reflex, especially if we have our kids with us. What happens, however, if we extend empathy with protection instead of judgment? I hear and see it all the time. The article you shared on Facebook making fun of a situation. Or the comments you make to others about the homeless person you pass every day on your way to work. According to a 2015 survey taken by The US Dept of Housing and Urban Development, 25% of homeless were seriously mentally ill and 45% were mentally ill. It was stated that if this were an annual study, the numbers would increase. The next time you see someone that you don’t understand, practice empathy instead of judgment.
Blurred lines of reality vs delusional thinking.
Towards the end of the movie, you realize that some of what you had been watching, through the mind of Arthur, was not reality. So there you sat, questioning different scenes and considering all possibilities. What if what seemed to be real, wasn’t real at all? Do a quick search online and you can find exercises showing what it is like to live in an altered reality. I remember seeing a video once where an audience member shared a true story of a loved one (not related to mental illness) and the Dr answered with, “that is not true.” They went back and forth for a while with the audience member getting angry. Finally, the Dr explaining that is what it would be like to live in delusional thoughts. That you believe it to be true, but others around you are telling you that it isn’t. Try it. It’s heartbreaking.
Did you see the movie? I would love to hear your perspective.
Not familiar with our story? You can read some of it in the post I Love Someone with Schizophrenia.
I do see the controversy in the movie. It is very, very dark. Just imagine…some live in that very, very dark place every day.