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Record High Suicide Rates Suspected in Japan

July 27, 2009

The latest victim of economic recession in Japan is people’s lives

During an economic recession news is usually filled with how corporations are posting losses, or how smaller businesses are filing for bankruptcy. On a more personal level news stories are filled with how the unemployed are finding new means of income, and how families might deal with parents having to work night jobs. The social impact as a whole during a recession is rarely commented on, probably mainly because there are no easily interpreted indicators that measure social well being. Deaths could possibly increase, but usually in America this is due to murder rates.

Take a society like Japan, and unfortunately one of the easiest indicators to measure happiness in the country as a whole is the suicide rate. Today the newspapers each reported differently on the news that Japan this year has had record suicide rates.

NikkeiSuicides break 17,000 in the first half of 2009” According to data collected by police stations, from January to June of 2009 17, 076 suicides were reported in Japan. Compared to last year, the Nikkei claims these numbers have grown 4.7% , or close to 800 people. Experts in the field are now concerned that 2009 could be the highest recording of suicides ever in Japanese history.

According to the Nikkei, an overwhelming majority of suicides were male: 71.6%, or 12,222 people. The areas with the highest rates of suicide are Tokyo (number 1), Osaka 2nd, and Saitama 3rd. It’s probably no coincidence that these areas also have the highest concentration of businesses and employed salarymen.

The amount of people committing suicide has also grown percentage wise. The most extreme case is Okinawa, which grew by 51% compared to last year.

YomiuriSuicides Reach 17,000, the worst pace ever” The Yomiuri claims that the pace of suicides this year is much faster than last year, and close to the worst year on record, 2003. In 2003 34,000 people committed suicide. This year, the worst months according to the Yomiuri were March and April, with 3,084 people committing suicide. Since then the numbers have come slightly down.

The Yomiuri claims that the pace of suicides this year is the worst since data began to be collected in 1978.

Asahi “Suspected Tornado Injures 20” The Asahi actually did not print an article about the suicides, but instead for their headline wrote about the recent (suspected) tornado in Gunma Prefecture. Tornados are very rare in Japan, but this incident seems to prove that a tornado did occur. The wind was recorded to be strong enough to rattle the roofs of houses, turn 10 cars over in a parking lot, and shatter windows of nearby shops and offices.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 28, 2009 10:23 am

    It seems natural that different newspapers may report differently but it seems if you read the original articles in Japanese by the Nikkei and Yomiuri that there is a consistent understanding that Japan annual suicide rate shows no sign of reducing again this year, as has been the case for over ten years now.

    I am a psychologist and psychotherapist working in Japan for over 20 years. Mental health professionals in Japan have long known that the reason for the unnecessarily high suicide rate in Japan is due to unemployment, bankruptcies, and the increasing levels of stress on businessmen and other salaried workers who have suffered enormous hardship in Japan since the bursting of the stock market bubble here that peaked around 1997. Until that year Japan had an annual suicide of rate figures between 22,000 and 24,000 each year. Following the bursting of the stock market and the long term economic downturn that has followed here since the suicide rate in 1998 increased by around 35% and since 1998 the number of people killing themselves each year in Japan has consistently remained well over 30,000 each and every year to the present day.

    The current worldwide recession is of course impacting Japan too, so unless very proactive and well funded local and nation wide suicide prevention programs and initiatives are immediately it is very difficult to foresee the governments previously stated intention to reduce the suicide rate to around 23,000 by the year 2016 being achievable. On the contrary the numbers, and the human suffering and the depression and misery that the people who become part of these numbers, have to endure may well stay at the current levels that have persistently been the case here for the last ten years. It could even get worse unless even more is done to prevent this terrible loss of life.

    During these last ten years of these relentlessly high annual suicide rate numbers the English media seems in the main to have done little more than have someone goes through the files and do a story on the so-called suicide forest or internet suicide clubs and copycat suicides (whether cheap heating fuel like charcoal briquettes or even cheaper household cleaning chemicals) without focusing on the bigger picture and need for effective action and solutions. Economic hardship, bankruptcies and unemployment have been the main cause of suicide in Japan over the last 10 years, as the well detailed reports behind the suicide rate numbers that have been issued every year until now by the National Police Agency in Japan show only to clearly if any journalist is prepared to learn Japanese or get a bilingual researcher to do the research to get to the real heart of the tragic story of the long term and unnecessarily high suicide rate problem in Japan.

    Useful telephone number for Japanese residents of Japan who speak Japanese and are feeling depressed or suicidal: Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service):

    Japan: 0120-738-556 Tokyo: 3264 4343

    Andrew Grimes

    Tokyo Counseling Services

  2. October 27, 2009 5:53 am

    The current numbers licensed psychiatrists (around 13,000), Japan Society of Certified Clinical Psychologists clinical psychologists (16,732 as of 2007), and Psychiatric Social Workers (39,108 as of 2009) must indeed be increased. In order for professional mental health counseling and psychotherapy services to be covered for depression and other mental illnesses by public health insurance it would seem advisable that positive action is taken to resume and complete the negotiations on how to achieve national licensing for clinical psychologists in Japan through the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and not just the Ministry of Education as is the current situation. These discussions were ongoing between all concerned mental health professional authorities that in the ongoing select committee and ministerial levels that were ongoing during the Koizumi administration. With the current economic recession adding even more hardship and stress in the lives its citizens, now would seem to be a prime opportunity for the responsible Japanese to take a pro-active approach to finally providing government approval for national licensing for clinical psychologists who provide mental health care counseling and psychotherapy services to the people of Japan.

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