“The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.”: The line Arthur Fleck in Joker scribbled hastily on a notebook is turning out to be a war cry for a generation. Experts have thrashed the Joaquin Phoenix starrer for its supposed ham-fisted approach towards mental illness. But the quote has hit home hard among people struggling with mental illnesses. The social pressure bears down on people with troubles like anxiety and depression. But the society rarely cuts them any slack. There are no attempts to coddle anyone with a mental illness. They are expected to suck up and blend in. That’s why we need to take a good second look at Joker’s iconic line on mental illness on World Mental Health Day 2019. Here’s why.
We live in a society that values happiness highly. In contrast, sadness, even in others, is frowned upon. A happy person is popular and attractive. While a depressed person is accused of “killing the vibe”, as someone who can bring down the energy of the entire room. We see this when people with depression are asked to “be positive,” “smile” or “get over it!” Mental health illnesses, unfortunately, don’t come with a switch that can be turned off at will. Joker Memes Are Invading the Internet And We Bet You Won’t Stop Laughing.
Anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and other mental illnesses often tempt a person to pull a no- show. But the pressure of keeping up appearances often makes them put on a brave face and go with it. “Going out and meeting people,” is treated as some panacea for all mental health issues. But forced socialising rarely helps, and there’s research to back it. What You Should NEVER Tell a Depressed, Suicidal Person.
According to Depression.org, “…studies indicate that when we are pressured to feel happy and not sad, we feel less happy.” They say that reining in negative emotions forcibly can increase feelings of loneliness and negative self-image. A joint study by researchers from the University of Melbourne, University of Amsterdam and the University of Leuven concluded that pressurising someone to feel happy when they are sad only worsens the symptoms of depression.
A study published in the journal Depression & Anxiety showed that social pressure to be happy could trigger negative thoughts after a “failure.”
Joker’s quote on mental illness has more than just a kernel of truth. Although the film is set in the 80s where there was a significant stigma around mental illnesses, things are better today (by a hairbreadth). Social stigma has reduced considerably, attitudes have changed, and the world has been acknowledging the widespread nature of mental illness today. But there’s still a lot of homework we need to do to understand how depression works.