TOKYO – Japan’s war on suicide has been well documented even after suicide deaths had fallen for 11 consecutive years until it hit Covid-19.
From the country’s infamous “suicide forest” Aokigahara – one of the most used suicide sites in the world – to Takahiro Shiraishi, the rapist and serial killer who used Twitter to lure suicidal women into his home, the suicide spectrum appears much on Japan and perception abroad.
Behind every suicide and suicide attempt lies an individual tragedy further exacerbated by isolation and the lack of a social support network. Suicide has consistently been ranked in the top 10 causes of death in Japan for the past decade.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic last year, suicide victims in Japan rose 3.7 percent to 20,919, showing a worrying increase among women and young people.
Emperor Naruhito, who turned 61 on Tuesday (February 23rd), said he felt pain from the rise of suicides and called for comprehensive preventive efforts and greater support for groups in need.
By comparison, Japan recorded 3,492 deaths due to Covid-19 last year. As of Monday (February 22nd), the total number of deaths from the country coronavirus was 7,549.
The number of suicide deaths last year is below the all-time high of 34,427 recorded in 2003. But last year also marks the first year-on-year increase since the 2009 financial crisis.
This prompted Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to create a new cabinet post to address mental health issues.
Mr Tetsushi Sakamoto, 70, who is both regional revival minister and minister in charge of reversing the birth rate drop in Japan, is taking over as “Minister of Loneliness”.
He heads a new office for suicide countermeasures, with about 30 officials starting work last Friday.
“Women are suffering more from isolation (than men), and the number of suicides is on the rise. I hope you will identify the problems and promote the policy measures comprehensively,” Mr Suga instructed Mr Sakamoto. .
Japan follows in the footsteps of Britain which, in 2018, appointed a minister in charge of loneliness. London defines loneliness as “a subjective, undesirable feeling of absence or loss of society”.
Mr Sakamoto wrote on his personal page: “Britain ‘s isolation problem seems to lie with its seniors. But in Japan, the problem is dormant in all age groups – including children, young people, women and the elderly – one problem that has emerged with the prolonged Covid-19 crisis “.
Japan has faced isolation issues described by words such as hikikomori (acute temporality, usually of people who are unemployed and avoid social interaction) and kodokushi (dying alone, a growing problem with an increase in single families).
This was added by Covid-19. Waseda University sociologist Michiko Ueda, who studies suicide, said women and young people are at higher risk of feeling in a psychological corner.
She noted that women are more likely to be contract workers, whose work is more likely to be interrupted and are more likely to work in the service industries that have been hit hard by the pandemic.
Meanwhile, youth may feel isolated from being unable to attend school in person, she said, citing a study by the National Center for Child Health and Development that showed 72 percent of students report stress and 28 percent depression from closure. of the school.
This is evidenced in the suicide records. While male suicide deaths last year fell 1 percent from 2019 to 13,943, female suicide deaths rose 14.5 percent to 6,976.
The number of primary, secondary and high school students who died from suicide rose 40 percent to 479 last year, the highest since records began in 1980, according to figures from the Ministry of Education.
Japan was also rocked by a series of high-profile celebrity suicides last year, including reality television star Hana Kimura, 22, actor Haruma Miura, 30, and Yuko Takeuchi, 40.
Prof Ueda expressed concern that these deaths might have inspired the suicides of copyists. Female suicides rose 90 percent in October from the same month last year following the sudden death of Ms. Takeuchi, a popular award-winning actress at the peak of her career, on September 27th.
Last month, it was reported that a mother in her 30s killed herself through guilt, haunted by the possibility that she had caught Covid-19 and spread it to her husband and daughter.
“I’m very sorry that I caused trouble,” she reportedly wrote in her suicide note.
It is one of 1,646 suicides last month when Japan declared a state of emergency while battling a third wave of Covid-19 cases.
This may be a drop from 1,694 in December and from 1,680 in the same month last year, but Prof Ueda said the situation remains dire and called for proactive personalized approaches targeting vulnerable groups, beyond conventional strategies such as help lines.
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
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Institute of Mental Health Mobile Crisis Service: 6389-2222
Care Corner Counseling Center (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
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Helpline for Women: 1800-777-555
PAVE Integrated Services for the Specialized Center for Individual and Family Protection: 6555-0390
National CARE hotline: 1800-202-6868