Depression. Of course, Japan has its problems, but why should so relatively prosperous, developed and democratic a society be so prone to a malady whose name means misery?
How prone is it? There are various indicators. One is official. Health ministry statistics record roughly 440,000 cases of clinical depression nationwide in 1999 – and 950,000 in 2011. It’s a shocking increase which may, all the same, fail to reflect the full scope of the crisis. Spa! (May 21) makes a bolder claim. Quoting an unnamed occupational psychologist, it says fully 80% of Japanese company employees are, if not full-fledged depressives, “candidates for depression” – on the brink of it.
Is corporate workaday life really so intolerable? It may not be as bad as it seems. Seeing a psychiatrist no longer carries the stigma it once did. More people are doing it. To what degree the rising stats reflect more diagnoses rather than more cases is not known.
Official figures aside, the anecdotal evidence that our lives are driving us around the bend is hard to dismiss. Most vulnerable of all, Spa! hears from Boei Medical University depression specialist Soichiro Nomura, are men in their 40s.
Why should that be?
A number of factors converge at that stage in life, Nomura explains. Career, family and financial responsibilities peak just when physical stamina starts to run down. Increasingly, there are aged parents to care for. The kids’ university years loom, and with them added expenses. A generation ago there was a reasonable measure of job security. Not now. Salaries no longer rise predictably even if you do keep your job – which is not assured. Nor, for that matter, is family stability. Fixed gender roles no longer free the husband from domestic cares, or prevent the wife from venting dissatisfactions she would once have swallowed. (Women too, of course, are vulnerable to mid-life and mid-career depression, but Spa!’s readership being largely male, male issues are its focus.)
Depression, like society itself, is evolving, and new types emerging. One is actually called “new-style depression,” and debate proceeds over whether or not it qualifies as a genuine illness. It generally afflicts younger workers, those in their 20s and 30s. Its defining characteristic is a tendency to manifest itself only during working hours. The working day over, the victim suddenly feels fine – until next morning. That suggests malingering to some, but others insist it is real enough, and a measurable damper on productivity. Another feature: whereas sufferers of classical depression typically blame themselves, the new-style depressive blames others – his boss more often than not.
Another evolutionary offshoot is what Spa! calls “strategic depression.” A ruder term, favored by some, is “convenient depression.” Convenient it may be, but that doesn’t necessarily mean fake. The constant fear of being laid off is depressing, and produces the usual symptoms – self-doubt, lack of energy and motivation, and so on. So you visit a psychiatrist, and obtain a certificate affirming you are depressed – armed with which you negotiate a leave of absence from work. If lay-offs at your company are really in the offing, this is protection. It is not strictly illegal to lay off someone on medical leave, but it is problematic. So your colleagues will bear the brunt of the restructuring while you slowly recover. Hopefully by the time you get back the worst will be over.© Japan Today