It’s been six months since Joker was released and the award-winning film is still causing a stir. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a peer-reviewed medical journal, found that the film “was associated with higher levels of prejudice toward” people with mental illness.
Joaquin Phoenix won an Oscar playing Arthur Fleck, the title character who goes on a violent rampage as his mental health deteriorates. It’s unclear what mental illness Fleck has been diagnosed with, but the film shows him visiting Arkham State Hospital where he’s unable to continue medication due to cuts in social services. The study investigated whether people viewing Joker had a change in prejudice towards people with mental illness.
The study had 84 participants complete a “28-item Prejudice Toward People With Mental Illness scale” before and after watching Joker.
“Joker was associated with higher levels of prejudice toward those with mental illness,” the study found. “Beyond prejudice, associating mental illness with violence may erode support for policies that we know to be beneficial for those with mental illness (eg, integration into communities). Additionally, Joker may exacerbate self-stigma for those with a mental illness, leading to delays in help seeking.”
It’s noted that “a limitation” of the study is it “did not assess whether viewing Joker was associated with actual behavior.”
“In The Dark Knight, Joker asks, ‘Why so serious?’ One might level that question at us, arguing that Joker is nothing to be concerned with,” researchers wrote. “However, what this view ignores is the profound consequences prejudice has on those with a mental illness.”
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