September 1 is a terrifying day, if you’re a parent. At least it should be.
How many parents know that more children kill themselves on that day than on any other?
The fact is better known now than it was, thanks to a government study analyzing the suicides of 18,048 young people over a four-decade span, from 1972 to 2013.
Adults think of childhood as a time of happy innocence. That startlingly high figure – 18,048 – shows adults to be the happy innocents, while children – defined here as people 18 and under – suffer torments their parents and teachers may be blind and deaf to. Something of that emerged clearly in July with the much-publicized suicide of 13-year-old Ryo Muramatsu of Yahaba, Iwate Prefecture. Shortly before the boy threw himself in front of a moving train, he seems to have tried to communicate his anguish over being bullied to a teacher. The signals were missed.
The government study, breaking down the suicides by date, finds 131 occurred on Sept 1, as against 99 on April 11, 95 on April 8, 94 on Sept 2, and 92 on Aug 31.
What’s special about Sept 1? Back to school, say Shukan Josei (Sept 8). School schedules vary from region to region, but Sept 1 is on average the nearest single day to the end of the long summer holiday – as April 11 is of the spring holiday. School is a breeze for some, a waking nightmare for others, a nest of bullies and uncomprehending (or willfully blind) teachers, a pit of relentless competition for marks and other tangible results that stimulates some but overwhelms others.
Journalist Tetsuya Shibui, who wrote Shukan Josei’s report, notes a gradual decline in the national suicide rate over the past few years – it’s been below 30,000 for three years in a row now. Young people’s suicides are down too, but less markedly than those of other generations. And adult depression peaks in different seasons – particularly around New Year, a time of celebration, and early spring, a time of new life. Sept 1? It hardly figures on the adult suicide calendar, ranking sixth.
While older children typically express something of their feelings via social media, those under 15, being less wired, are more likely to keep their feelings to themselves. Many, Shibui hears from counselor Ayaka Ishii of the NPO Light Ring, which deals with troubled children, don’t want others to know, least of all their parents. The children tend to be more ashamed of their own failings than angry at their tormentors or the adults who fail to protect them. That makes things difficult for even the most attentive parents. “The kids will put on a happy act,” says Ishii. You have to know the signs.
What are they? Any marked change in behavior or character may be significant, but watch out in particular, Ishii warns, for indications of indifference to appearance or bodily care. A child who neglects to brush his or her teeth, for example, may have things on his or her mind that a parent should – tactfully, of course – look into.© Japan Today