Can the comics help reduce the stigma of mental illness? As our colleagues in mental health advocacy point out, there’s nothing particularly funny about the stereotypical thinking and outmoded ideas that fuel the evil deeds of villains in Batman and other superhero comics. In their insightful comments in The New York Times, they urge DC Comics and other publishers to use their pop culture influence to put a stop to their demonization of the mentally ill.
We agree. The publishers have made recent moves to modernize their plot lines to reflect contemporary issues. Why not update the characterization of mental illness? As our colleagues note, they can start by eliminating the use of antiquated and derogatory terms, such as “lunatics” or “psychos” and stop linking mental illness with violence. Most mentally ill people never commit a violent act. And, when the superhero invariably catches the bad guy, stop locking up the Joker or Two Face in “asylums”, which haven’t been around since the early 1900s.
It’s easy to dismiss the messages that come through comic strips as inconsequential. They are, after all, just comics. But, in fact, they are part of a culture that has a history of unfairly demonizing an entire group of people, making it that much harder for those with mental problems to admit –to themselves and others – that they need help.