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Mental illness is no joke

  • Published at 12:06 am November 6th, 2019
Mental Health
Photo: Bigstock

A recent movie shows why society should not neglect mental health

A movie based on one of the most iconic villains of DC comics, Joker, was released globally in the first week of October. In less than a month, the movie became a box-office success, even without computer-generated imagery or the story revolving around a group of superheroes or a hero. 

Starring Joaquin Phoenix and directed by Todd Phillips, the movie’s unique selling point is its noir story-telling, which is likely to remind movie-goers of Taxi Driver from the 1970s. The stellar performances by the cast of the movie -- especially Phoenix -- the script, the cinematography, and the twists, have added this to the list of successful comic-book based movies.

Though set in the early 1980s in the fictional Gotham City, the characters and their backstories are relatable with many incidents and personalities that we see in the present time. There is a young man who is trying to make ends meet while taking care of his ailing mother and managing his own neurological condition. 

The movie featured a single mother living in a seedy apartment and working nine to five to support her child’s education; a rich socialite who wants to get into politics to rid society of its ills and more. Most of these characters resonated very well with the audience.

Prior to the movie’s release, there was some apprehension that it may glorify the behaviours and activities of the Joker, an arch-nemesis of Batman in DC Comics, who is also a criminal. However, the movie subtly highlighted a very important issue prevalent in most societies of the world in this day and age: The lack of public awareness and support for patients affected by mental and neurological illnesses.

In the US and other developed countries, such patients get some form of financial and other support from the state, allowing them to seek medical consultations and purchase medications. Due to this support, some of these patients become contributing members to the economy in the long run. But, as was mentioned at one point in the movie, such support is being cut down by governments that are increasingly facing other “more important” national expenditures.

The consequences of such budget cuts can be mind-boggling in nations where gun control is still a sensitive topic of discussion. 

The situation is far worse for similar patients in developing nations like Bangladesh. Here, these people are often overlooked. Those hailing from middle and upper-income households are often treated by general physicians and the medications prescribed by them mostly suppress the symptoms, rather than treat them. 

Those from lower income groups are often kicked out of their families or chained within the confines of their homes. Others are often pushed into society in search for jobs. Social interaction is difficult for these people as they are often ignored. As a result, they yearn for friendship and care. Often, they try to get these through activities that lead to undesirable incidents.

The lack of awareness regarding certain mental conditions among the general public has led to deaths of many innocents over the past few years. On 20 July, Taslima Begum Ranu was beaten to death by a mob near North Badda Government Primary School. Based on some rumours making the rounds about child kidnapping in the country, the locals suspected that she was a kidnapper. But Ranu had gone to the school to ask about admission procedures for her child. 

After the incident, her brother released a video on Facebook where he explained that Ranu often had trouble speaking or answering questions properly if she was scolded or screamed at. This is possibly why when she was being beaten up, the poor soul could not even beg for mercy. If one reads the reports from those weeks, it will be clear that most of the people lynched during that month and earlier had similar diseases and conditions.

The movie also shed light on how mental illness in a family member like a father or mother can affect the wellbeing of their child and other members in that family. This is very true in Bangladesh, where families of these patients are expected to fend for themselves. Even their closest relatives do not want to communicate with them until and unless it is absolutely necessary.

These children are not given extra care in schools or colleges by their teachers, lecturers, and administration. They are often picked on at school for being the child of a mad person. As a result, they grow up with trauma that can affect them later in life. 

What is necessary at this point in time is for the government and other stakeholders to encourage psychiatric consultancies alongside annual medical check-ups for adults, youth, and teenagers. Even without a history of mental illness in the family, stress in the workplace, academic challenges, and other emotional pressures can drive most people over the edge. Maybe the public drug addict rehabilitation centres can be revamped to address mental illnesses as well. 

Additionally, children and family members of mental patients need to be supported by relatives, neighbours, and other members of the society. They should not feel left out of the society.

Syed Tashfin Chowdhury is Associate Content Strategist at NewsCred.

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