Dr. Kate Wilson is bright, funny, and bold. She’s a highly experienced and skilled psychiatrist with extensive knowledge of mental disorders. She has quite a reputation and is known for treating aggressive criminals with severe mental illness, including patients like the supervillain character “Joker,” played by Joaquin Phoenix.
So indeed, she’s the perfect person to discuss the movie’s portrayal of mental illness. Right?
Our 90-minute conversation will give you a clear picture of how society treats or think about mental illness from Dr. Wilson’s point of view.
What Made You See The Film “Joker”?
I used to enjoy watching the Batman cartoon in college and thought of the Joker as the weirder version of Krusty the Clown with violent behavior. But I knew instantly that it was an origin story.
What piqued my interest in the movie was none other than Joaquin Phoenix. He’s one of the finest actors of his generation and is famously known for playing unconventional roles. So without much thought, I went to the theatre to watch it. He goes all in when it comes to playing a character, whether it’s gaining weight or looking mentally ill. No wonder he won an Oscar for his exceptional performance in the movie.
Some time ago, I came across an article where the director said he wanted the character of the Joker to be challenging to understand. But I can’t help it; I’m a psychiatrist!
So here I am going to read The Joker like a book!
Is The Jokers Laughter A Real Condition?
Sadly, yes! While watching the movie, I learned he has PBA (Pseudobulbar affect). This condition can happen to people with traumatic brain injury. Sometimes, people with Parkinson’s can also suffer from this disorder. I’ve never seen anyone act like that unless they’re seriously ill. Kudos to Joaquin Phoenix for portraying the character so well. Crying and laughing at the same time? The act was spectacular!
Usually, this illness can be controlled by taking Nuedexta, an FDA-approved medication. So I thought that if he had taken this medicine, things might have been different, and maybe he would’ve been a little better. The princess of pop, Britney Spears, seems to have this condition, and it’s extremely sad.
What About Joker’s Mother?
Not only was she delirious and mentally ill, but she was also diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissism is a personality disorder and cannot be treated. Narcissists are extremely selfish people who will never see any fault in them and can’t accept their wrongdoings. So if you address their mistake, they will try to prove that you’re wrong and display hostile acts.
Do you think the Joker was aware of his madness?
Most likely because he attends therapy and takes medication.
I almost teared up when he wrote in his notebook about how people expect you to behave. It was sad.
As A Psychiatrist, How Do You Portray Joker’s Unnamed Therapist?
Being relatable to patients is something that we focus on, and so I was somewhat relieved when his therapist told him about how people don’t care. They don’t care about you or me. What I appreciate in the movie is that the people who evaluated his symptoms were both black women. Is there a diagnostician better than a black woman? I don’t think so!
No wonder, without hesitation, she got straight to the point because that’s what we usually do, cut to the chase.
In One Scene, Joker Kills One Of His Cohorts And Allows The Other One To Escape. Do You Think Showing Compassion Is Normal In A Psychotic Person?
The answer depends on whether a person is a sociopath or a psychopath.
Joker’s behavior is distorted because his mentally unstable mother mistreated, neglected, and abused him. He suffered enough abuse as a child that it created a monster in him, thus the name Joker.
Is he a psychopath?
He definitely is because sociopaths are magnetic and have a very likable quality that would attract you toward them.
The perfect example of this would be the American serial killer Ted Bundy. He was a charming, intelligent man, so people would usually say that he could not do such things. But when he gets drunk, he becomes Mr. Hyde and behaves wildly.
Psychopaths are experts in wearing masks and using their charm to persuade you to get what they want, and sociopaths often display unpredictable mood swings.
Do You Think People With Mental Health Problems Like Joker Should Receive Treatment From Hospital And Asylum Or Prison Suits Them Best?
The answer would depend on the mental condition of the person. Because if a person’s illness is the root cause of his insane behavior causing him to commit a crime, he should be admitted to a mental hospital for treatment.
We have Twin Towers Correctional Facility in L.A., the country’s largest psychiatric hospital. They have a bunch of mentally ill patients and a full squad of psychiatrists. The facility has different floors and levels that accommodate patients depending on their mental condition.
I can say that mental hospital patients can improve a lot, so it’s best to send them to a mental hospital for treatment. Since it’s a place made for them, they sure can get better with time.
You Have Met People At The Twin Towers Correctional Facility Who Have Committed Heinous Acts. So How Would You Feel If You Met Them While Walking On The Street? Would You Feel Safe Or Get Scared?
There are several services available for people recovering from mental illness to help them get back on their feet. It can be a group discussion, exercise, yoga, training their social skills, etc., and these people take recovery very seriously because it’s no joke. There’s no room for error.
It’s because we tell them that living in a society is an honor because people like you could be kept in a mental hospital forever. So there’s no way I’d get scared or intimidated by their presence because they’re trying their best to recover and live in a society like a normal person.
Do You Think The Joker Wanted To Get Better?
Absolutely! He was aware enough of his mental condition and even went on to ask to increase his medication, but his therapist seemed unconcerned. I felt like stepping in for a moment because this guy wanted to get better; he was looking for help.
Seeing someone searching for help and consistently going to appointments was heartbreaking. But society doesn’t care at all, and we are all to blame.
What more? People with behavioral or mental disorders don’t have the same societal value as those people who don’t have disorders. That’s the sad reality. Most people avoid receiving help or delaying treatment for fear of being treated differently in society, and this discrimination is a huge problem.
People with mental illness are discriminated against in many ways that create a barrier among people.
Society doesn’t care about the mentally ill person at the grocery store, park, or anywhere and treats them as nonexistent. Reality is heartbreaking, and this movie portrays it perfectly. He didn’t get the chance he so desperately wanted.
What Do You Think Is The Cause Of Mental Illness? Is It Hereditary? Is It Associated With Trauma? What Do You Think Is The Reason For This Disorder?
Some mental disorder is genetic and can run in families, but this does not guarantee that you will develop the same illness. Researchers are yet to find the exact cause, but genetics play a major role. Besides, mental illness can also result due to upbringing.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mentions that mental illness can be caused due to several factors, such as drugs, alcohol, traumatic experiences, loneliness, and brain abnormalities.
At present, there are no genetic tests that can help determine your gene combinations to know if you’re susceptible to any mental illness. However, your family history may be able to provide you with clues. If a close family member has a mental condition, you might also be at possible risk.
Understanding and recognizing the risk may help you stay alert and diagnose the illness early.
Is mental illness curable?
Mental illness is treatable, but it cannot be cured. The best you can do is receive medication to alleviate the symptoms to function and work normally. There are various effective treatments available, and they can significantly help improve the symptoms and prevent any danger.
If You Were The Joker’s Psychiatrist, What Would You Do?
The Joker has a bipolar disorder type 1 characterized by maniac episodes and also suffers from a neurological condition called Pseudobulbar affect (PBA).
Luckily this condition can be treated with medication. To control his mania, he should take a mood stabilizer and antipsychotic medicine to help reduce his delusions. He would also need to take Nuedexta to treat his pseudobulbar affect.
Moreover, he needs therapy to help him deal with his emotions due to his traumatic childhood experiences.