Those of you who have watched Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar-winning performance in Joker, would agree that one of the most striking traits of Arthur Fleck’s character is his uncontrollable laughter. Although the movie never names the specific conditions Fleck is diagnosed with, his fits of laughter are likely based on a real disorder called pseudobulbar affect.
Pseudobulbar affect (PBA) or emotional incontinence is a condition characterized by episodes of uncontrollable laughing or crying or some other emotional displays. PBA may occur in people with neurologic disorder such as multiple sclerosis or brain injuries, or stroke. As the involuntary outbursts can last from seconds to several minutes at a time, PBA can feel extremely alienating for the person living with it. Patients may find themselves crying or laughing uncontrollably at something that is only moderately sad or funny, respectively. These laughing or crying periods not only land the patients up in uncomfortable situations, but are also exhausting and painful too. Severe symptoms of PBA can lead to embarrassment, social isolation, anxiety, and depression. The condition can be quite disruptive to the patient’s life but fortunately, it is treatable. As with any sharp shift in mood, the most important thing to do is consult a professional as soon as possible.