Does Joker accurately represent depression?

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Page last updated: 24/10/2022

Does Joker accurately represent depression?

In this blog we will briefly discuss the representation of depression in Joker. 

Does Joker accurately represent depression?

No. The movie nor the character Joker does not accurately represent depression nor any specific mental illness for that matter.

While it is not specifically mentioned that the Joker has depression in the movie Joker, the movie depicts the character of the Joker as someone who has issues due to another disorder which leads him to slowly descend into violence. 

There has been many controversies regarding Todd Phillips’s Joker and the depiction of mental illness in the movie where the character of Joker is played by Joaquin Phoenix.

The criticism that this movie has faced is primarily from professionals in the mental health care field where there has been many debates of how mental illness has been portrayed and the glorification of mental disorder and violent behaviour. 

The critics of this particular movie are focused around how mental disorders- severe psychotic disorders- are often misrepresented and misunderstood, perpetuating more stigma and ostracisation around those who suffer with mental disorders. 

When we consider if the representation of mental disorders like depression and psychotic disorders have been accurately portrayed, many critics of this movie highlight that the portrayals of mental illness in film is based on unfounded stereotypes and spreads misinformation. 

One of the major issues that has been brought up again and again is how the movie creates this association between mental illness and violence- almost pushing the agenda that severe mental illness will lead to harm towards oneself and towards others. 

Many of the critics about the representation of this particular movie are against the idea that mental deterioration leads to violence against others that is implied by the character of Joker as he slowly begins to deteriorate mentally after he stops taking his medication. 

Critics fear that this portrayal will do more harm than any good because it not only misinforms viewers about how mental illness impacts an individual and others but further amplifies stigma and fear around the issue. 

It is obvious that the portrayal of Joker’s mental illness is heavily exaggerated and contrary to the portrayal, studies find that it is people with severe mental illness who are more vulnerable to violence from others than it being the other way around. 

Other than the fact the violent portrayal of mental illness is not an accurate representation of mental disorders, the fact that the psychopathology of the Joker is ill defined only makes things worse. 

The film portrays the character as having psychosis, narcissism and depression- but none of this is confirmed nor denied in the movie and this vagueness only misinforms the public who are not knowledgeable in this area and it pushes the idea that mental disorders is just psychosis and violence. 

This cinematic depiction of mental illness through the character of the joker is grossly inaccurate and the lack of information and the negative portrayal of the systems in place for the treatment and support of mental illnesses only misinforms and discourages people from actually seeking help that they need. 

In this case, the representation of mental illness such as depression in the movie Joker is not accurate nor should it be taken at face value.

Does Joker accurately represent depression?

What is depression?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a leading publication used for diagnosis of mental disorders by mental health professionals, Major depressive disorder or depression is a serious mood disorder.

Depression is marked by the following symptoms:

  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day- either by their own observation or observation made by others.
  • Diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia. 
  • A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.

Depression symptoms also include extremely low mood and fatigue and is often accompanied by thoughts of worthlessness and hopelessness which can lead to suicidal ideation and even attempts. 

Depression related symptoms such as inability to focus, lack of energy, and hopelessness can impact a person’s ability to work and meet the demands of their daily lives. 

People with depression often struggle with low self esteem and self worth which can cause them to negatively assess themselves. They may fear rejection and abandonment from other people which may cause them to isolate themselves in a bid to protect themselves.

This social withdrawal can make it difficult for them to maintain social commitments and relationships as they might choose to push people away especially when they do not have the skills to communicate and manage their emotions and thoughts. 

While these are some of the ways depression impacts a person, the disorder itself can cause the quality of life of people who have it to drastically decrease and in extreme cases, if the disorder is left untreated, it can lead to suicide attempts and death. 

How to cope and manage if you have depression?

Here are a few things you can do to cope with depression:

Seek professional help

If you have not been diagnosed, do not stick to self diagnosis based on your symptoms. Seek out professional consultations starting with your GP who can refer you to specialists in the field. 

There may be different medications- some which might work for you while others that might not help you. 

Taking time to find a doctor who can help you with estimating the right dosage of medication and the right medical treatment can make the quality of your journey to recovery drastically different. 

Reduce stress

If it’s a job that is causing you immense stress, maybe it is time to consider taking a leave of absence. Or it could be your own family environment that is causing your symptoms to flare up- consider moving out if your financial situation persists. 

The intent here is to reduce or remove the things in your life that add stress. If it is a certain relationship, taking the time to set boundaries or communicate that you are taking time out can be one way. 

By reducing stressors, the thought of waking up and facing your day may seem a little less daunting, you might even look forward to it. 

Learn and apply coping skills

If you are depressed, you can learn coping skills and techniques and apply them at least once a day when experiencing depression. 

This can be learning how to tackle your anxieties and negative moods by regulating your breathing and engaging in deep breathing techniques. 

You can also try grounding techniques to help you cope with spiralling down a negative rumination. Make goals for each day and let your goals be small, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bound, 

Make plans for your day that suit your pace- if today is especially difficult, make a step by step plan from your bed to the bathroom in the mornings. Reward yourself when you succeed and be kind when you slip up. Remind yourself that you are learning. 

Exercise

Engaging in exercise, even if it is only a 15 minute stretch can be a wonderful step towards loving yourself and caring for yourself. 

You can opt for joining the gym however, if this is too much you can consider yoga or pilates that you can start gradually; you can also go for walks or runs alone or with your loved ones. 

Getting out of your house and doing something that allows you to get your blood pumping in itself can be a great way of self care. 

Eat a healthy diet

Diet is an important aspect of overall health and is an important component of maintaining a positive state of mental health. 

There has been plenty of research studies that have been linked to what we eat and higher risks of depression. Research finds that well balanced meals with adequate intake of vegetables, fruits, grain, and healthy fats are related to lower risks of depression.

Sleep well

Take time to improve your sleep hygiene. Research has found that sleep disorders are also a core symptom of depression. Irregular sleep and not enough sleep can make your healing process difficult and can even heighten the risk of relapse. 

Some of the things you can do to improve your sleep hygiene are

  • Avoid substances that impact your sleep, this includes caffeine. 
  • Exercise daily
  • Avoid heavy dinners
  • Change your sleeping environment to be more soothing and sleep inducing. 
  • Make changes in your pre-sleep routine such as taking relaxing baths before sleep, avoiding gadgets two hours before sleeping time.

Connect with loved ones

Reaching out to people who love you and letting them know that you are having a hard time now, can bring you closer to people who truly love and care for you.

These are positive relationships we want and need around you as you begin your journey to recovery. Positive relationships help you discover joys and meaning to your life. 

Make plans to meet them for lunch, or go for a walk with them. Make sure you make clear what you can and cannot do and agree on something that both you and them can enjoy. 

You can also take the step to connect with other people who are coping with depression through group therapy or support groups.

Oftentimes, listening to other people’s successes can instil hope, it also gives you the opportunity to learn new perspectives of living and life along with new techniques to cope.

Conclusion

In this blog we have  briefly discussed the representation of depression in Joker. 

FAQ related to Does Joker accurately represent depression?

What mental illness does Joker portray?

While it is not specifically mentioned that the Joker has a certain mental illness in the movie Joker, the movie depicts the character of the Joker as someone who has issues due to another disorder which leads him to slowly descend into violence. 

It is most likely that the Joker suffers from Pseudobulbar Affect or PBA, which is a neurological condition and not exactly a mental illness. 

Does the Joker suffer from depression?

It is not specifically mentioned that the Joker suffers from depression however, he does show symptoms of depression, psychosis, as well as narcissism – but none of this is confirmed nor denied in the movie

References

Annabel Driscoll and Mina Husain. Why Joker’s depiction of mental illness is dangerously misinformed. The Guardian. Retrieved on 29th April 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/oct/21/joker-mental-illness-joaquin-phoenix-dangerous-misinformed