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March is worst month for suicides of salaried workers

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March is known as the month of the year with the highest suicide rate. For 12 consecutive years, suicide has risen in Japan, with 32,753 cases in 2009. The highest number was reported in March with 3,079 victims, followed by 3,064 and 3,001 cases in April and May respectively.

Yasuyuki Shimizu, a representative of Life Link, an NPO involved in suicide prevention, comments, “So far, we haven’t been able to identify the reason why more suicides occur in March. But suicide cases concentrate around the end/beginning of the fiscal year, and we suspect that changes in the social environment – including promotions, job transfers and employment problems – are significant factors.”

The issue of suicide is more serious in Japan as these victims are people in their most productive years. The 2008 Population Survey Report published by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare indicates suicide as the leading cause of death for the age group 20-29 and 30-39.

Based on reports from the World Health Organization, this situation does not apply to other developed nations. It is clearly an abnormal phenomenon.

Shimizu states, “Suicide should be addressed as a social structure issue and not just a personal problem… currently the number of employed workers committing suicide is on the rise, and is not limited to the unemployed and the poor. The suicide of salaried workers is extremely disconcerting.”

While action at the national level is required, there is an urgent need to identify preventative measures on an individual basis in view of the fact that nearly 100 people take their lives every day. Life Link has conducted extensive interviews with families of suicide victims to create their own white paper on the subject, providing information on the environment and mental/physical problems of the individuals prior to their death.

The most common factor to suicide is work related. In the case of "K," who worked for a food processing company, changes were observed about six months prior to his death. Due to excessive overtime work, he began complaining of chronic insomnia and stiff shoulders and sought employment elsewhere. Six days before he took his life, he was actually promoted, which he said to his wife was a nuisance because of heavier responsibilities. He had a mortgage to pay and couldn’t possibly quit his job. One day he told his family he was going out and never returned.

"H," who had chronic hepatitis C, took his life because of bullying at work. Stress at the office, demotion, a supervisor pressuring him to resign, and being blamed for the errors of other company staff, "H" developed depression. He took his life while his wife went grocery shopping.

Debts and alcoholism can also contribute to suicides. "N" was an alcoholic and had multiple debts to several credit card companies. Three months after his wife asked for a divorce, the man committed suicide at his home. He owed a total of 2 million yen.

Based on the analysis of 305 suicide cases, Life Link created a list of risk indicators including changes in the work environment, financial and family issues as well as physical problems that are seemingly harmless as back and shoulder pain. Shimizu points out that their studies showed an average of four factors happening simultaneously or in succession that led to depression and suicide. Additionally, even if victims were sending out distress signals, unless acknowledged by family or coworkers, no preventative action can be taken.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

51 Comments
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This is sad but unfortunately not surprising.

My managers actually gives a disapproving look when the young/new staffs tries to leave the office on time. It's as if you're not suppose to have life outside of work. This indirectly increases the stress and depression that these new bright young staffs faces and hence lead to problems such as this in the coming years.

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Why is it so hard for Japanese to see the elephant standing right in front of them?

Overwork: People in Japan work too much. This prevents their being able to develop social circles, outside interests, stronger family ties and other critical human interactions. It is also responsible for many health problems.

Gambarro Culture: I know I will get flamed for this, but I have observed that Japanese people seem to take some pride in suffering. There is this idea that suffering is admirable e.g. the worker who is very sick and should have stayed home comes in and passes out at the office. The boss and others respect the workers gambarro attitude. When they should be scolding that person for not staying home to rest or going to a doctor. But this runs all across culture here. People are encouraged by society to suffer under whatever conditions they are in rather than doing the smarter thing to make changes or demand improvements.

Lack of Empathy: From managers are companies to families there seems to be a massive lack of empathy here. Bosses don't care if they work Taro to death or that his overwork is killing his family and personal life. The wife doesn't care that Taro is near death from overwork, she's upset he isn't a better partner or she finds his presense troublesome. Kids don't care that Dad is one foot in the grave as long as he pays for school, allowance and gadgets. And society will let someone fall down on the street and just walk by with little or no notice. And then there is bullying which I see far too much of in work places, social circles and society in general.

Denial: Failing to Acknowledge the problem is a huge contributor. People don't want to admit they are struggling or that their loved one is in danger. So they ignore or suppress it. Government fails to address the real problem and therefore fails to provide the infrastructure necessary to help step the tide of suicides.

It is a wonder that more salary people are not raining off the roof. Japan must learn to change the causes that they may not want to admit to.

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My manager gives a disapproving look when I leave the office on time to get to see my little girl before bedtime.

I give nary a toss.

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My managers actually gives a disapproving look when the young/new staffs tries to leave the office on time.

I actually think this is something that it will take at least one and maybe two generations to change, if it can be changed at all.

I had a very interesting conversation with one of my Japanese staff which puts a bit of light on this kind of thing. I was told that staff member, who is a mid-level, mid-career manager, feels stress when the junior staff leave early.

The reason? The mid-career people, and the late-career people who manage them are from a generation where it was considered appropriate to leave when the task was finished, and not before. As a result, the mid-levels feel pressure when they see the juniors leave early. The impression they perceive is being passed up the tree is that the juniors have finished their tasks early (not true, obviously) and left, whilst the mids are still at it. Ergo, the mids are inefficient and lazy, the juniors full of energy and fast workers.

That's insidious, and a very difficult paradigm to get out of. I asked if corporate instruction on a maximum working day, or even legislation, would make life easier. The answer I got back was "We would have to work faster to finish a task and so make mistakes which would cause stress."

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Another spa report, don't take these too seriously.

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This culture is sick and dying from the kind of thinking that enslaves everyone to unreasonable expectations. I think we are already seeing widespread rebellion against this in the growing legions of NEET and Freeter workers who refuse to submit to this model. Also the young ones coming in are collapsing quickly under the old standard and many will not survive. This means additional impact to labor issues.

Japan cannot wait a couple generations to change this. It has to act now. But there is an out. Japan loves rules and people do follow rules here. The government can fix this by imposing very harsh rules on labor hours and work life balance practices. Once law, Japan will comply.

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tkoind2: "Once law, Japan will comply." And to quote a double positive that becomes a negative, yeah, right!

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Geeeez. It's got to be bad when you feel that suicide is your last and only option. I wish that the Japanese people can learn how to express thier true feelings and ask for help rather than live the robotic lives that a majority of them do.

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brotokyo. If there is one truth I have seen in Japan beyond Gambarro Culture, it is the capacity for Japanese to comply with rules. While getting the DPJ to pass such a set of laws would be miraculous, it is pretty clear that laws with real enforcement teeth would be followed.

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Japan needs a revolution, now!!

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My flatmate works for a company which, like many in Japan, is only focussed on cutting costs. His boss fired half the staff and wouldn't take on any more, thus doubling the workload for the people left. My flatmate's position in the company was eliminated (division head), and he now earns less than he was earning when he started there 5 years ago, and doing 3 people's jobs. The boss repeats the same thing over and over: If you don't like it, quit.

Many companies cut down on staff and try to get the same level of performance out of a reduced workforce by overworking them without extra pay. Since the government doesn't interfere, this can carry on. This kind of laissez faire led the US into The Great Depression. Why can't anybody see that?

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It's tax time in Japan...no wonder its the worst month...

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it's end of fiscal/academic year. you have to finish lots of stuff for the current year, and prepare lots of stuff for the next year. at managerial level it's crazy busy, and young lads just don't keep up. used to just be around pretending working, when pressurized with work, they crash. the solution in Japan is: "work longer hours". but of course, if they can't do the work, longer hours don't really help, and you end up with a vicious circle. and all of this on the gloomy background of the Japanese corporate culture described by the above posters

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So in some sense, the taxman has blood on his fingers.

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Society is sick. Our news cries aloud daily of our chronic, diseased, zero sum existence, and yet this constant exposure of our illnesses - from the seven deadly sins to the immoralities we perpetrate - seem to linger and fester still. When will we address these issues and confront them? The term hypocrite doesn't suffice to negate our inability to penetrate the deep seeded maladies of our lives.

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Time for the slaves to turn on their masters! Lets see some bullying of managers for a change!

Except for a few organizations trying desperately to change the views of suicide and offer people help, I think the majority of Japanese people still view it as an honorable way out. I hope those who care continue and don't give up!

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no doubt if I was s salary man i would off myself too! That is a terrible way to live...

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tkoind2: I think you have summed it up well. It's mind-boggling, isn't it? Most people must be aware of that thousands of people are taking their own lives every year. And the solution to drastically reducing the number of suicides is so obvious and simple: stop working so much!

As for a long term solution, definitely the government has to enforce the labor laws so that overwork and bullying are out of the equation. For the short term, why isn't the government doing some kind of anti-suicide campaign, making people aware of the warning signs and encouraging suicidal people to seek help!

As you said, there is some kind of honor in suffering so maybe the real problem is that people don't really see this as a problem.

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Very well said tkoind2

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A young salaryman I know works regularly until 1-2 a.m., taking a taxi to his wife and kid. Now there's a big contract thingy going on so he's at work all weekend too! I fear for him because there seems to be no quarter given or asked. Just seeing the family on weekends sometimes negotiable, especially cause his boss is working the same long hours. I wish I could statistics for how many suicides occur for each corporation...and their departments...and their job level...

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Some people have no out. I am severely in debt, and when I am forced to retire, I at least have a different option. I can leave the country,

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If March is the worst month for suicides, then which is the best month?

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March is the highest month for suicides for everyone. It is after the holidays of December, after the hope of a New Year fades away, resoultions have failed or been forgoten and the reality has hit home of it being just 1 more long year ahead. Too much for someone people to deal with.......quite simple really.

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the number of employed workers committing suicide is on the rise, and is not limited to the unemployed and the poor. The suicide of salaried workers is extremely disconcerting.

Japan, you have gained the world and lost your soul. Get the hell OUT of the cities and back to God's good green earth! The earth is for our health; mental, physical and spiritual. Get back to where you once belonged Japan!

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I would say that low income/debt would be a big factor in suicides, as much as the work culture is.

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Thank god I am not a Japanese slave at a crappy Japanese company working 24/7! Suicide from overwork? Now the Japanese tell you, you should just be happy to have a job in such a bad economy, so be happy to work yourself to death?? No thanks! I feel so sorry for all of these people who can not stand up for their rights at work and end up killing themselves. Unions in Japan are also a deadly JOKE!

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Japan, you have gained the world and lost your soul. Get the hell OUT of the cities and back to God's good green earth! The earth is for our health; mental, physical and spiritual. Get back to where you once belonged Japan!

I couldn't have said it better!!!

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Japan cannot wait a couple generations to change this. It has to act now. But there is an out. Japan loves rules and people do follow rules here. The government can fix this by imposing very harsh rules on labor hours and work life balance practices. Once law, Japan will comply.

true, except that japan is a producer-based economy rather than a consumer-based economy, so the govt naturally writes and enforces laws to benefit producers (companies) at the expense of consumers...same reason why there's no consumer protection agency

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If 911 occurred every 2 months something would be done about it. If planes were falling from the sky killing this amount of people every year, there would be a stop to it.

This is all by choice and pressure. Japan needs to give this up and it will discover not only a more beautiful world, but nations of friends who were always ready to be there.

Given a choice and also considering the job situation, maybe job sharing would allow relief?

That would put Japanese home by 6pm, with weekends Sat Sun off. Sounds like a dream in Japan.

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Sounds like a dream in Japan.

given the sorry state of personal relationships amongst the locals, some would consider this a nightmare

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stirfry

I guess that's true, but that would open a new chapter in Japan's history. The Japanese Home-makers. If financial issues are no longer the problem with job sharing, and responsibilities/pressure removed as a result, people would learn to live their lives and not run away from them.

The TV would turn off. What would be a meaningful thing to do? I don't know but I want them to have the freedom to find out

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Japan has many issues that sorely need addressing and to list them all would make me a "Japan Basher". But of all of them, this has to be the most urgent.

That over 30,000 people take their lives, mostly working tax players, is WAY to big of an issue to ignore. It may be taboo, but it is the elephant in the room. The lack of reaction from the Japanese public and government is mind boggling. I've seen more than a few in the last two years, had friends stuck down with mental illness and had a few brushes with it myself.

Last I checked, Japan was 6th in the world in suicide rates though I think South Korea might be up there too now. On the stats I saw, Russia and ex-Soviet Bloc countries were at the top then, bam, Japan.

My wife when to a union meeting about life insurance for her company. Another stat, cause of death for Japanese men between the ages of 20-50. 3) Heart attack, 2) Cancer, 1) SUICIDE!

And if Japanese politicians are so dead set on limiting the number of foreigners or giving women equal working rights, with an aging population, they're going to find their tax income and workforce falling short very soon.

No matter if you're left or right, conservative or liberal, socialist or capitalist, this situation is a crisis any which way you look at it.

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too many people have their faces buried in their latest gadgets...texting someone, e-mailing, facebooking, is not the same as having a conversation with someone

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correction, NOT giving women equal working rights.

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March is tax payment time. Suicide was once honorable in Japan. It still might be considered appropriate if there is a personal debt spiral and family is gaurantor. Of course, the ganbarou and gaman to pain working long hour attitude plays a part.

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Hmm.. what do we mean when we say “ lot of work// working too much “ etc? sure end and beginning of month is usually stressful period of time in many companies worldwide located. But I can not believe that japanese companies are overloaded with work, if so- people would have totally different level of life and japan would not be in economical crisis

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Meh. The difference between the March suicides and the April suicides is less than 1%. I'd call that statistically insignificant with regards to saying one month is more deadly than the other.

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You gotta admit it, March can be a pretty dark month. Of course, I embrace it by getting out into the woods and forests several times a week but most people just can't do that. Never could understand why someone would commit suicide.

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Based on reports from the World Health Organization, this situation does not apply to other developed nations. It is clearly an abnormal phenomenon.

No, no, no. It's part of Japan's unique culture. Nothing abnormal about it. But wait, maybe if someone in society or government were to notice that other developed countries don't have the same problem, maybe things would change. hahahahahaha.

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Meh. The difference between the March suicides and the April suicides is less than 1%.

Yes. And March is a day longer.

I have some other quibbles with the stats used in this tabloid article. They use the fact that Suicide is the leading cause of death for the 20s, and 30s, and then imply that those age groups (the most productive) are the majority of the suicides. In fact, it's people in their 50s and the 60+s who make up the largest group.

And as for Suicide making the top reason for deaths among young males and that being astounding, consider the other factors influencing the list: public transportation (fewer traffic deaths); universal healthcare; absence of warfare, low murder rate. Etc. That heart-attack is number 2 for these young people really implies that they have low mortality rates overall, compared to the general world population.

Now that that I have that little nit-picking about the Shukan's crap writing out of the way,... Of course suicide is still WAY to common in all demographics and I hope the government continues to look at things like loan facilities (ending the sarakin shark business, encouraging small personal loans, ending the guarantor system, etc.).Something also ought to be done in the schools, as well, to encourage a sense of hope and respect for life very early on.

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(Feel free to pick on my crap lack of editing ;-)

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Marushka. Have you missed something about working hours and stress in Japan??..Its normal for many salarymen and public officials to work around 14 hours a day, sometimes even working saturday/sunday. It doesnt mean that they earn more money because of working 14 hours instead of 8 hours. But it is expected that you work hard.

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I think the reason for March being the worst month is because it's when you see clearly what probably lays ahead of you the rest of the year, financially speaking. Add to this that corporate Japan (whole Japan, indeed) is a hard environment if you are spiralling down. Actually, it's hard even when you're doing well. That's why I don't see suicidals in Japan as mentally ill, they're just out of hope.

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What DOES surprise me is there isn't a "ramp-up" in suicides to the month of March. It immediately pegs in March then "ramps-down". I would normally expect suicides to increase after the new year and keep increasing while the days are still relatively short and dreary. Once Spring hits, I would expect the suicides to drop off.

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It seems to be a well done research. At least we know now that DNA is not to blame, as the former internal affairs minister Mr.Kunio Hatoyama claimed. Also, I suspect that March is bad because of the seasonal fluctuations in biological rhythms as both the body and mind are most tired of the winter season. In northern countries, for example, it can be as extreme as the winter (AKA sunlight deficiency) depression. And this may well cumulate with the factors, mentioned in the article.

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Consumer loan companies have much to do with the suicide rate. In fiscal year 2005, 17 consumer loan firms received a combined 4.3 billion yen in suicide policy payouts on 4,908 borrowers -- or some 15 percent of the 32,552 suicides in 2005.[13] Lawyers and other experts allege that, in some cases, collectors harass debtors to the point they take this route.[13] Japanese nonbank lenders, starting about a decade before 2006, began taking out life insurance policies which include suicide payouts on borrowers that included suicide coverage, and borrowers are not required to be notified.[13]

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As far as I can tell the country is rotting like my own US.... this along with the above no real friends article... Space Monkey sure had a great post... I also noted when I was running the Tokyo Marathon it was like running with 35,000 zombies, then came back to Osaka and the sun didnt shine for a week and my wife beat me up, trashed my home office for going to Roppongi after running 42km and spending 100,000 in all.... so yea I would say its a shitty month.... Zombieland.... gotta love that.

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Some of the previous comments have praised the Japanese health care system, and indeed it is amazingly efficient, except in one area, mental health. There are plenty of psychiatrists, but it's well known that consultations are generally done in less than 15 minutes and medication is the only treatment prescribed... which is fine right up until the point that the person being medicated decides they're feeling better and stops taking the meds (which is a common phenomenon), and then goes from chemically induced happiness to suicidal in one smooth motion. Furthermore psychologists are virtually unheard of, and aren't covered by national health, so one's choices are (a) a lifetime of drugs to suppress any problems, or (b) ... wait, there is no option b. Most schools have counsellors, but there's no standardised registration and training process, so there's no guarantee of the quality of "counseling" that students receive. Workplace counseling is again unheard of, and there's a complete lack of work/life balance as a consequence since there's no central body reporting back to government or anyone on the genesis of these suicides since it's impossible to question a corpse.

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They dont work hard. They kill time cause they hate being at home. or becuase the majority get overtime, it motivates them to work less effeciently and hang around work. The culture is to blame in so many ways. but then again...every culture has its shitty shitty ways

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OMG!! So far, we haven’t been able to identify the reason why more suicides occur in March. r u ppl that stupid its quite obvious its cuz of the sick amount of taxs this country takes every year in March!!! cant believe everyones scratching their heads saying "I wonder why??"

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