I’m a fairly curious person and I like to form my own opinions, so I took myself to the very controversial movie “Joker.” On a weekend I drove six hours to teach 15 people Mental Health First Aid in rural West Virginia the movie “Joker” was opening around the country to millions of movie goers.
I had heard about people in the mental health advocacy community being upset about the movie tying mental illness and violence. I’ve heard others say the movie would incite violence. Here’s my perspective:
I recognized it is a fictional story based on a comic book character. I loved watching Batman growing up and always thought the Joker was a creepy villain. But this movie was much deeper. The character’s mental illness is at the forefront of the story, but so is the failure of the mental health system, his provider and ultimately his access to medications.
Those are serious and real issues. Those stories need to be told.
Do they need to be brought to light with a character who snaps and violently murders people? I suppose there are stories out there like that…but more stories are that people with mental illness are beat up, murdered, left for dead or jailed for long lengths of time for small infractions. Who is telling those stories? Who would go to the movies to see those stories?
I suppose if Hollywood can help us get the conversation about mental illness going we will take what we can get. But I doubt the general public walks away and feels inspired to care about people with mental illness. But I can guarantee anyone who walks out of a Mental Health First Aid Class is more empowered, less fearful and more understanding of someone with a mental illness.
At the end of the day Hollywood is entertainment that can bring issues to light. It takes grassroots advocacy to really make lasting impact and sometimes that means you have to drive six hours to get it done.