Two recent hit films, Joker and Frozen 2, have brought the topic of mental health to the masses – an important step in the ever-growing need to address the issue.
Mental health can affect anyone, including healthy, young individuals. Nanthida Nanthavong, Associate Epidermiologist at GlobalData, estimates that 16 countries worldwide* “will see an increase in the number of both 12-month and lifetime total prevalent cases [of anxiety] from 2018 to 2028.” She also goes on to note that the most common disorder to occur alongside anxiety is depression, which can also lead to suicide.
This prevalence emphasises the urgency that children and young adults should be taught that it is OK to talk about anxiety and depression, as well as other mental health issues, and that it is something that everyone experiences.
Joker smashed the box office, seeing (as of 29 November) $327.7m in the US and Canada, and $711.9m in other territories – making over a billion dollars worldwide. As speculated in our Joker Review, director Todd Phillips seems to want to make Joker a warning on how we treat the less fortunate in our society. The Joker, as played by Joaquin Phoenix, saw traumatic experiences as a child and has been raised in a society that ignores mental health – with the cutting of mental health services for example. While there are some concerns raised about the association of mental health with violence and other stigmas, the film thrusts the issue right in the audience’s faces. There is no skirting around it. I believe that taking a well-known character and showing their complexities in this way is important for pushing these talking points forward. Getting people talking about something, draws it into the light and starts the ball rolling towards change.
“The worst part about having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.”
– A line from Arthur Fleck’s journal in ‘Joker’
Released last week, Frozen 2 has also highlighted mental health. In one scene, Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) experiences something shocking and sad, and is at a highly emotional low point. She expresses how thinking about the future feels too much for her and how her grief feels like a physical force. These descriptions help the viewers, which are typically children (though, an older lover of Disney, I say these films can be for a much larger audience than that), recognise these feelings in themselves. Furthermore, Anna then describes how she deals with those feelings, by only focusing on the next steps ahead – a real technique for handling anxiety. I feel this process of recognising your feelings and establishing techniques to address them is a vitally important thing to teach people of all ages – and something that is missing from public education.
A similar technique called ‘grounding’ was also used as part of Better Call Saul, a spinoff show from the immensely popular Breaking Bad. In it, the character of Chuck named all the items around him – a popular type of coping strategy that is designed to “ground” you in, or immediately connect you with, the present moment. And, of course, Disney Pixar’s Inside Out also addressed depression, among other complicated emotions, and presented them in a way children could understand.
Let’s keep talking about mental health. Let’s keep pushing the issue through media. Let’s keep sharing it on social media. Maybe, at some point, these actions will force governments to respond and things might improve.
* (The US, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and South Korea)
Written by Rebecca Panks