Monday, December 7, 2015

Japan sees decrease in suicide numbers

By: Joshua Lim
Produced & Edited by: Danielle Keeton-Olsen

Japan is experiencing a decrease in suicide numbers. In fact, the number of suicides has been dropping for the last three years.

That’s a relief for a country that is known for its high suicide rates.

In 2014, about 25,000 people took their own lives in Japan – that’s about 70 people everyday, according to a BBC article. However, that figure is lower than the total of 27,283 in 2013.

The number of suicides recorded among
Japanese youths between 1972 and 2013
(Graphic via CNN)
Despite the drop, Japan’s suicide rate is still higher than most developed nations.

The country’s suicide rate is roughly three times higher than the United Kingdom, with an average of 18.5 people taking their own lives out of every 100,000 in 2012, according to a World Health Organization Report.

The suicide rate in Japan is about 52 percent higher than the United States, according to 2012 data.

Vickie Skorji, the director of TELL Lifeline, an organization invested in addressing Japan's mental health care needs, said the high suicide rate in Japan can be attributed to economic difficulties since the 1990s and Japan’s large population of elderly people, who are more likely to face isolation and serious illnesses.

Skorji said the thought of not being able to provide for the household made many men depressed, which played a big part in the suicide rate because the majority of suicides were men.

“These are two areas that the government has been trying to work on,” Skorji said.

Ryosei Narita, an international student from Japan, agreed with Skorji’s explanation. Narita said men in Japan have a lot of pride compared to women.

TELL is a non-profit organization that provides counseling services to Japan’s international community. Currently, the lifeline operates from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. from Monday to Sunday.

Bullying in school

Many Japanese college students said bullying is the main reason why youths, particularly in junior high, are committing suicide.

A total of 18,048 children under the age of 18 took their own lives between 1972 and 2013, according to government data.

In 2013, Japanese schools – elementary, junior high and high schools – had a combined total of about 185,000 cases of bullying.

Hina Ochiai, who studies at Kofu First Highschool, said teachers would pass out surveys to students every month to identify individuals who were being bullied. The surveys would also inform teachers if certain individuals require counseling.

Ochiai added that parents would receive the same survey once a year.

Silence of suicides in universities

Mei Naruyama, a student studying at Chubu University, said her university has counselors but does not have a club/organization that emphasizes on suicide prevention and awareness.

Japanese university students shop for textbooks
(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
Musashi University also lacks clubs or student groups that promote awareness, said Yuko Matsunaga, a Musashi student.

Despite the lack of organizations, Matsunaga added that there are people in organizations, schools and family that can help people who are contemplating suicide.

However, some students may find it challenging to seek assistance.

Miyuu Hoshino, a Chubu university student, said some Japanese students are ashamed to tell people, even parents, they are being bullied, which can lead to isolating habits.

Hoshino added that it was difficult to have conversations about issues such as suicide.

“When I talk about suicide, my friends said to me ‘Oh, it’s just too bad.’” Hoshino said. “They don’t think too much (about it).”

Areas to improve

Matsunaga said the wealth gap between the rich and poor people in Japan is a contributing factor to the suicide rates.

The Japanese government has been cutting welfare payments since 2013. More than 30 percent of households in Japan have no financial assets, a 26 percent increase from 2012, according to the Central Council for Financial Services Information in Tokyo.

“I think the government should financially support poor people more,” Matsunaga said.

TELL Lifeline receives about 6,000 calls a year, half of which are from Japanese locals in spite of the fact that TELL mainly caters to the international community. Skorji said she is trying to expand the lifeline service to a 24/7 operation to cater to the high volume of calls.

Individuals in the U.S. who have or have had suicidal thoughts can seek help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

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