Where I live in America, there’s a decent amount of stigma about mental health that’s held some people up on the subject. I always seem to see those satirical skits and comics online comparing the responses people with a debilitating mental issue get with someone telling a guy with no legs to “walk it off”. So, given that those had to have been in answer to something, I assume this is a widespread issue in various parts of Western civilization. It seems most people don’t realize that mental health is just as important as physical health. It’s getting better, though, and I’ve received way less stigma from others for attempting to find a psychologist in my area for a general check up on things. Though, that still doesn’t mean there’s full acceptance of it.
Western culture isn’t alone in this. Japan has infamously been way behind the times whenever it comes to certain parts of mental health. Depression wasn’t even a recognized issue until the 1990s in Japan, where a campaign gave it the name “cold of the soul” to try and raise awareness and relate it to similar issues in physical health. And while they’ve rapidly improved since then, there is still massive stigma surrounding depression in Japan, many arguing that it’s just being used as an excuse to get out of work. And that’s just for depression. We haven’t even gotten into the many other issues that can affect a person’s mental health or are the results of mental health. For instance, Japan’s suicide rate is horribly high for a multitude of speculative reasons only assisted by a culture that practices rarely speaking up and disturbing the mood of the group.
This is why I find Psycho-Pass fascinating. It seems to be directly speaking on the subject of mental health in Japan while also using the world it creates to explore very interesting ideas like criminal behavior, how effective reintegration is for ex-convicts, the issues of dealing with PTSD, and the flaws of human bias in a judicial system. However, for a series based all around psychology and the effects of violence on a populace, it gets a particular thing very, very wrong.
Psycho-Pass, for the uninitiated, is a series following officers of the Public Safety Bureau who investigate issues surrounding criminals and “latent criminals”. In this world, a highly advanced AI system called Sibyl runs areas of government as well as oversees the general populace’s psychological “hues”, a color-coded readout of someone’s mental health. Because all of society is based around keeping a healthy hue, thereby allowing everyone happier, stress-reduced lives, a massive importance is put on people taking care of their mental health, with plenty of options and available ways to keep psychologically healthy.
However, where a person might not take care of themselves or find themselves in an unhealthy situation, this is where their Psycho-Pass comes in, a reading of the probability that this person might become dangerous to society. A Psycho-Pass is an number associated to that person that can change everyday, depending on different variables in their life and personality that might affect their hue. Go over the threshold, and the Public Safety Bureau department will detain them. Go even further to a point where they would be or are actively terrorizing the populace, and they’ll be shot dead on site in order to protect the peace. Did I mention this was a dystopia, by the way?
This is where the idea of the previously mentioned latent criminals comes into play, an idea that from birth, some people due to their biological make-up are predisposed to be an aggressive sociopath. Both these people and those who accidentally cross over the line are locked up away from the rest of society. However, release is unlikely, even if their Psycho-Pass returns to a completely normal threshold. Most of the focus in this series is on the Psycho-Pass and how it creates a flawed system, permanently vilifying those who may step over the line as well as failing to catch certain individuals if they aren’t correctly identified by the Sibyl System.
When the show is doing this, it is easily one of my favorite stories. Dissecting a broken system while drawing attention to psychological issues is a perfect blend for a long-story psychological thriller. This shit is my jam. However, one idea is spread around in this show that is so horribly misguided, it actually becomes dangerously so in regards to real world mental issues.
The idea that mental illness is infectious.To the show’s credit, some of what it says makes sense. For instance, in the first episode, a victim is so mentally traumatized by what had happened to her as well as seeing the police brutally murder her attacker, that she’s in a state of utter fear, not trusting the police who so quickly killed someone as well as obviously still disturbed by the horrible abuse she’s gone through. Very obviously, when they read her Psycho-Pass, it’s well over the threshold for a normal person. And to the show’s credit, the main character de-escalates the situation and the woman’s Psycho-Pass reduces. However, this is not the only time this shows touches on this subject nor is it always so nicely done.
Enter the rioting arc.
Due to a long series of events leading up to it, the main antagonist of the show releases large amounts of criminals onto the streets of the city wearing helmets that don’t allow their psycho-pass to be read, allowing them total freedom to get away with pretty much anything as most police action is automated using robots with very low amounts of actual humans normally needed patrolling the streets. This causes massive chaos and very horrifying scenes of murder. However, the town fights back until they realize that in the ensuing chaos, they also can’t be detained and many decide to free roam the city, stealing, smashing, and all around causing havoc.Now rioting is something that is studied extensively and it is true that crowds can turn from peaceful to crazy fast, with only a few people needed to start mass violence. However, it’s not the setup or the scenes about the rioting that irked me. It was the smaller scenes of people scared for their lives suddenly snapping, donning insane smiles and mercilessly chopping their attackers and other victims alike. This is just simply not how human psychology works. While it is true that for certain scenarios, particularly sexual abuse, previous abuse can be a risk factor for a cycle of violence, but that by itself has shown to not be a direct cause of turning a victim into an abuser nor does it happen so fast and suddenly. Even people who snap under pressure, rarely suddenly start attacking friends and enemies alike. On top of this, after everything had quieted down, everyone was sent to emergency shelters to have their Psycho-Pass and hues checked, with the main cast commenting on due to insanity’s infectious nature, these victims of the riot would need rehabilitated. Something that was further shown with a mentally disturbed victim looking like he was about to snap while being evaluated.
Insanity, a loose term for any severe psychological issue, is not infectious.
Yes, violence and abuse from a mentally disturbed individual can absolutely cause issues for other people. You only have to look at Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to see the effects of violence and trauma, no matter the perpetrator. However, to make the claim that a human will replicate that violence they themselves had inflicted on them, suddenly forming the same mental issue their abuser had, is very dangerous to say. This is borderline victim shaming and seems to be based off the hugely debated notion that violence breeds a cycle of violence, something that has caused massive fear and added stress to victims in the real world horrified they might become their abusers. Generally, violence can and will mess people up but it won’t cause people to enact violence on others exactly as was done to them. Rather, it typically only causes mental issues for those individuals and may require psychological help in order to assist in healing. For a show that champions mental health and the necessity of it, this was surprising to see them get so wrong and then double down by having it be directly involved in the plot of this arc. We shouldn’t consider victims of abuse ticking time bombs for further abuse and the idea that an exact form of mental illness can spread like a physical disease is just so far off the mark with no psychological basis.
This seems a bit like an old man yelling at clouds situation, where I’m needlessly nitpicking a seemingly insignificant part of the show. However, the reason why I bring it up is because it’s a dangerous message to spread for a culture that is already stigmatized against those that suffer from mental disorders, with the majority of people in Japan stating that most disorders are just bad behavior rather than a serious psychological problem, going so far as to distance themselves from sufferers of various issues, isolating them. That’s a huge deal. The only reason I’m even okay talking about my own problems with others is due to the fact that there’s more acceptance in my own culture. I can’t imagine the isolation others in Japan may feel, with no one to support them.
Heading back to Psycho-Pass, all of this is not to say that Psycho-Pass is a bad show. On the contrary, this is probably one of my favorite shows that I’ve seen recently and I love all the clever ideas and philosophy it explores (though, I sometimes feel like it gets too dark for the sake of shock value). I’d still highly recommend giving it a watch to anyone that enjoys very dark crime and psychological thrillers. It was just a little disappointing to see the show go so far to comment positively for mental health and the necessities of taking care of yourself without stigma, but then fall suddenly short in this one regard, holding victims with suspicion for issues caused to them.
(I don’t have a good ending image so here’s the sick as fuck second OP that gets me pumped every episode it plays.)
On a similar topic:
“Something Terrible” – http://www.tencentticker.com/somethingterrible/
- An initially saddening but more heartwarming comic on the cycle of violence and overcoming the fear a man developed after he was abused.
Inspiration and Research for this Topic:
- “How Japan came to believe in depression” – BBC News – http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36824927
- “Why does Japan have such a high suicide rate?” – BBC News – http://www.bbc.com/news/world-33362387
- MyAnimeList for Psycho-Pass – https://myanimelist.net/anime/13601/Psycho-Pass
- “Review of mental-health-related stigma in Japan” – http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/pcn.12086/full
- “I Couldn’t Do It to a Kid Knowing What It Did to Me” –http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0306624X14567664
- “Addressing the victim to offender cycle” – Living Well – https://www.livingwell.org.au/managing-difficulties/addressing-the-victim-to-offender-cycle/
- Why do People Riot? – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyhGHPWnenI
- Rabble with a Cause: Were the London Riots a Spontaneous Mass Reaction or a Rational Response? – https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/rabble-with-a-cause/
16 thoughts on “Psycho-Pass – Infectious Misinformation”
As unrealistic as it is, it kind of felt like it was just a part of the world they had created with this idea of mental strain. So, dramatic liscence maybe? While the show is excellent at brining mental health to the foreground, a lot of it was either exaggerated or specific to the society represented in the anime so I don’t know that they were trying to be overly realistic in the portrayal of the riot.
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And I think that’s true of their intentions. At the same time, it’s damaging for them to present that given the issues with mental health Japan has, as I mentioned.
I don’t think the show is bad because of it, though.
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I agree with most of what’s written here, and don’t have much to add. However, maybe this is bias from my field, but I think terms related to mental health should be used precisely to avoid confusion. Like when you say “the idea that psychosis is infectious”, I don’t think you meant the state of losing contact with reality (delusions and/or hallucinations), but rather mental illnesses in general.
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I think you are absolutely correct and I apologize if I’ve gotten the terms wrong. My intention was to change up wording to not sound repetitive or redundant.
I’ll try to edit this in just a bit. Besides “mental illness”, are there any other terms with the same definition I could use? Also, were there any other specific terms that stuck out that might need reworded?
Hmm my studies are in the health care field, but I am by no means a mental health expert. So the psychosis bit was the only part that struck me as something that could be misunderstood. I’m not exactly sure but I guess “psychiatric illness” should mean the same thing.
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Well, just that is helpful. All instances of “psychosis” should be fixed in the article now. Thanks so much for pointing that out. 🙂
Very interesting. The issues of mental health is something that is very close to my heart. Its wonderful to see someone bringing this up and discussing the importance of talking about it. Its a shame Japan is still so far behind the times as things are indeed getting better in western culture (not great but better). I never looked at Psycho Pass this way until recently and you raise some excellent points!
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Thanks for reading! Mental health is really important to me as well so I was stoked to get to write about it. I’d like to note that the latest I could find on stigma in Japan while researching was 2013, so it’s entirely possible that they’ve started getting much better about this over these past four years. However, I feel like on the whole, most countries still have a ways to go. Something to work towards and look forward to in the future!
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To the future!
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A bit late to the party here, but very interesting indeed. It was something that irked me when I was watching the show too, although I have to admit I forgot about it when the rage against season 2 took over haha.
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Yeah, I’ve been told to ignore S2 and that apparently even the movie ignores it. From what people have said, I think I might do that. 😛
[…] in the analytical realm is this article about how Psycho Pass handles mental illness so delicately and accurately until it… doesn’t, dropping the ball and basing its plot […]
[…] Psycho-Pass – Infectious Misinformation […]
Just found your post and I thought that in the riot situation many people turn into attackers because they are very confused, have no idea what’s going on and what to make of the situation and in addition they are afraid of becoming victims, so in order to avoid this they only see one way out – to become attackers themselves. The word choice of “insanity” was definitely not ideal but if you consider how often this word is used colloquially to describe something that seems so confusing, incomprehensible and “out there” that you are shocked about it I can forgive them in this case.
What I want to say with this: I don’t think it’s meant in the way that mental illness is contagious but that people in crowds easily behave irrational if the rest of the crowd does so, one other example being panic spreading in a crowd.
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I think that’s a fair interpretation that the panic in the crowd would spread but the actual show discussed several times the spread of it’s version of “insanity” and mental issues, not just in this arc.
Also, while they would think to defend themselves, it’s very unlikely that normal people would resort to murder, especially in the way it was portrayed in the show, with a sudden snap and then menacing faces on victims turned victimizers.
Easily seen in real life is the opposite, actually. The extremely worrying amount of mass shootings have shown either defensive behavior from victims, positive group behavior, or for the brave few, an attempt to stop the person, not necessarily but not brutalize them like the “snapped” victims in the show do.
Even if we disagree, thank you so much for commenting! It means a lot that you took the time to not only read my thing but also want to discuss it. 🙂