There’s no doubt that suicide is a big problem in Japan. Outranked only by South Korea and Hungary, the country has one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world. A recent survey by the National Police Agency revealed that health concerns, overwork, financial difficulty, unemployment woes and familial disputes all played a major role in taking the lives of nearly 33,000 individuals last year alone. Many of these individuals were children and teenagers who sought a release from bullies and unyielding pressure to conform to Japan’s high academic standards. Others were elderly individuals without family or friends, who struggled to come to terms with living in isolation and without a clear purpose.
You’d imagine that the Japanese government would do something to help lower the suicide rate. They do, and have failed miserably in every attempt. Despite dedicating more than 15 billion yen toward suicide prevention strategies, which include initiatives such as awareness campaigns and assistance centers, such measures have proven to be largely ineffective. Calming blue light LEDs and barriers on railway platforms have done little in the way of stopping people from jumping in front of a train, and the total number of suicides has been unrelentingly consistent, if not increasing, year after year.
It isn’t easy stopping a person from killing himself/herself, much less 33,000 people. There are, however, potential solutions to the problem.
In countries like Canada and Australia, the first line of defense in suicide prevention is professional psychiatric advice. Though it varies depending on where you live, psychiatric services are partially covered by provincial/territorial health insurance and are readily available and accessible to the general public. The same, however, cannot be said for Japan, where psychiatrists are few and far in between, and at eight thousand yen per hour, are far too expensive for the average Japanese to afford. Though a national suicide hotline is available in Japan (命の電話), volunteers are usually the ones answering the calls. As costly an endeavor as it may be, subsidizing the costs associated with visiting a psychiatrist, in combination with making them more accessible to the general public, is sure to have a positive impact on suicide prevention in Japan.
It isn’t only adults; Japan’s suicide troubles have spilled over into its education system too. Though pressure to do well academically is a major cause among minors, bullying remains the largest cause of suicide in the under 18 demographic. Children as young as 10 have hung themselves over physical, verbal or emotional abuse from their peers. Teachers oftentimes ignore the problem and leave the students to their own devices, as bullying policies remain nearly nonexistent in Japanese schools. And despite their attempts to reduce the suicide rate, the Japanese government has yet to do anything concrete about the bullying problem in schools nationwide.
Doesn’t that sound a bit screwed up? The laissez–faire attitude of the Japanese education system towards bullying simply cannot stand. School-sponsored anti-bullying programs have proven to be extremely effective in reducing the prevalence of bullying in other countries. If the same were to be implemented in Japan, the number of suicides due to bullying would surely experience a significant decrease.
What is arguably one of the leading causes of suicide in Japan, however, is "karojisatsu" – death from overwork. Individuals in Japan work for more hours than most in other OECD countries, and there is little government regulation in the number of hours an employee can put in. In doing so, the employee shows his/her dedication towards the company – at the cost of the employee’s mental health. Studies have linked excessive amounts of work-related stress to depression, which oftentimes leads to suicide as a means of escape. The solution to the problem lies in enforcing Japanese employment law, which already stipulates working no more than 40 hours per week. Less hours, less stress and a lower number of suicides due to overwork. It’s a win–win situation.
These suggestions, however, will be ineffective without solving larger, underlying problems. Many in Japan still view suicide as an honorable deed and a viable alternative. The economy still continues its downward slide. Current unemployment figures in Japan are still near an all–time high. Bullying remains rampant at all levels of education with no end in sight. Employees are still pushed to work until 10 or 11 at night and return to work at 7:30 the next morning. Until these societal attitudes and issues are addressed, Japan will face an uphill climb in lowering the suicide rate permanently. And in a society that has been infamously slow to adapt to change, the pursuit of such a goal may take quite some time.© Japan Today