Happy now? Everyone is talking about 'Joker'

The film “Joker,” starring Joaquin Phoenix, portrays how access to treatment is directly correlated to income.

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

The provocative new film “Joker” offers what many consider a stunning look into the life of someone with mental illness, but for some, it is a raw representation of the pain we suffer daily.

19.1% of Americans experienced a form of mental illness last year, but less than half received treatment. And, just as the film portrays, access to treatment is directly correlated to income.

As we exited the theatre, I could not help but think of the Jan. 8 shooting and the hundreds of massacres that have occurred since. Guns are one absolutely crucial part of the equation to ending mass shootings — but what if the person behind the gun had been helped and treated first?

If we want less violence in our country then it’s time to start prioritizing funding to school counselors so issues are identified and treated early on. Increase access to free behavioral health professionals so that no one is denied and wait times to be seen are not months. And of course, access to affordable prescription drugs that make the difference between being able to function and not leaving the house.

If we want less violence in our community it’s time to stop the stigma that those with mental illness are all “crazy” so that those affected are too ashamed and afraid to speak up. It’s time for ALL of us to speak openly about the struggles we face daily — diagnosed or not. And it is time to treat mental illness as the disease that it is — not a defect — but a medical condition like any other.

It is only through action and compassion that we will be able to stem the growing tide of violence caused by people in pain who have been ignored or untreated for too long.

If Joker had been raised in a community where people reacted to him with care rather than fear and taunts, where he had a well trained and engaged behavioral health professional and free access to the medication he needed, there wouldn’t be a Joker. No riots. No mass violence.

Instead, the Joker’s home of Gotham is a mirror to the U.S.

Guess the joke’s on us.

Liz Bowman is the CEO of SARSEF, is a 2017 Tucson Public Voices fellow with the OPED project, has been honored by 40 Under 40 and is a Tucson native who not only lives with mental illness but thrives thanks to treatment.