Trigger warnings: Depression, aggression, asylum
I saw Suicide Squad recently. When it finished my first reaction was ‘oh my gosh, how could they get it so wrong?’ The portrayal of mental health in this movie was, in my opinion, totally off the mark. I have a few points to make about the matter, and I think I’m going to start with the idea that the movie portrays mental health as either ‘crazy’ or ‘sane’.
If you think about what this kind of black and white thinking really does to those struggling with their mental health, then you will understand what I’m saying. For someone who has struggled with their mental health for quite a long time, I feel personally betrayed by the makers of Suicide Squad for making it seem like such a simple thing; you’re either crazy, or you’re not. Take Harley Quinn for example; she was a perfectly ‘sane’ psychiatrist, who got reeled in by someone deemed ‘crazy’. Then she was turned ‘crazy’ by that same person. Firstly, you don’t just automatically have mental health problems. They don’t just turn up one day out of the blue, and they can’t be caused by something such as what happened to Harley Quinn. Secondly, portraying someone as ‘crazy’, and stating that they have issues that can’t be fixed only makes those struggling with mental health feel worse about themselves and like they can’t talk about it.
That brings me to my second point. Harley Quinn is such a simple character in the movie; I did not see much depth, only a minor amount of character development. The constant comedic relief Harley Quinn supplied was a front for the real problems that lie below the surface. Now I haven’t read the comics with Harley Quinn in them, but from what I’ve heard from other people, she is quite a complex character and her mental health issues are explored in a healthy and good way. In Suicide Squad this disappeared, she was eye candy, she was comedy, and she was the token ‘crazy’ that had everyone intrigued. This kind of representation is harmful to those with mental health issues, because it creates the premise that we should hide our mental health issues, and pass it off as something it’s not. It suggests that we should not be exploring our mental health; we should not be allowed to express it and deal with it in a healthy way. This will prevent many people from even asking for help in the first place.
Something that many around me have noticed about recent DC movies is that they often are incapable of allowing a ‘hero’ to have complex, identifiable mental health issues. This is an aspect of Suicide Squad that I think completely falls flat. All of the protagonists in this movie are ‘villains’. And all have issues that are not dealt with in the right way. The problem though is this: the characters are seen as villains because of the mental health issues that they are dealing with. Take Diablo for example, he has this pretty impressive and devastating control over fire, to the point where he murdered his wife and children in a fit of rage. Firstly, there are some aggression issues there that just aren’t dealt with in any way. Secondly, he clearly has regret about what he did, and has tried to right his wrongs, but his past mistakes have not been wiped clean, and he is labelled as being a ‘villain’; because he has anger issues that he is not receiving help for, despite the fact that he is clearly depressed. The government labelled him as a ‘freak’, a ‘villain’, not fit to be a part of the rest of the world. This is an unfortunate label; that spins an even more negative image of mental health for the viewers.
Written and illustrated by Charlie Osborne