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