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Suicide in Japan

By Peter Dyloco

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

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I would love to comment and make some comparisons, but the stupid moderator on this site HATES any kind of logical comparison. Time for posters to demand a new moderator! The current one acts like a child in deleting almost everyone's posts.

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So tell us something we don`t know. This is hardly news. Anyone who has been here for any length of time knows all this already.

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Yeah, a very nub article... And I dont think 'karoshi' qualifies as suicide! Those people didn't ask to die, they just didnt/couldnt resist their circumstances...

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pop culture celebrates its suicide culture so until that is illegal or is massively curtailed it simply cannot change. Doing the same thing and expecting a different result makes no sense either.

actually by denying Japan's history it robs people from dealing with the present. With no resolution to move forward and a national tendency to bury everything under the rug, no one grew the social skills necessary to grow stronger emotionally to deal with unpleasant but necessary adult decisions. Without an open and available emotional tool kit that we take for granted in the West, Japanese continues to be at a disadvantage.

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HIgh on sensationalism and speculation, low on fact. 1/10

I really wish that writers of these opinion pieces would stop for a moment to consider the inconsistencies in their own logic before submitting these portfolio-padding fluff pieces.

Take this gem:

What is arguably one of the leading causes of suicide in Japan, however, is “karoshi” – death from overwork.

(Forgetting for the moment that karoshi and suicide are not the same thing.) The most reliable data from 2007 tells us that karoshi was the cause of death for 147 people - and that roughly 800 people reported mental health issues due to overwork. Given that extremely small percentage of Japan's workforce, what grounds does the author have for claiming it to be one of the leading causes of suicide in Japan? Aside from placing their work in gogle searches for "karoshi", that is...

And then we've got this one:

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.

8,000 yen is not too expensive for the average person, and it's a relative bargain when compared with other countries with a lower suicide rate. The USA, for example. That said, how does the author resolve the discrepancy between lower suicide rates and higher cost of psychiatric care in other countries?

And finally:

And in a society that has been infamously slow to adapt to change, the pursuit of such a goal may take quite some time.

Infamously slow to adapt to change? Funny, usually people complain about the way the Japanese are so crazy to adopt whatever the latest tech/fashion/media/culture/culinary/travel/social trend that rears its head. Now it's "infamously slow to adapt"? Explain that one to me - with a bit of fact, if you'd be so kind.

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I grew up going to a psychiatrist becuase I have bad ADHD and a learning disability. It was not strange or weird to go to one for me when I was older. In college, even when I dint really need them anymore I would visit one (or a licensed counselor through the uni) once in a while just to go sit and complain about life. no one in your life wants to hear you complain. but these dudes are paid to listen. It helps just to get it out. plenty of times in Japan I have had something I just wanted to get off my chest or talk to someone about it. no one to turn to but my chi-hi. plain and simple there are things you just dont want to talk about with your GF or friends or family. and they can not give you a unbaised viewpoint. like: "SUCK IT UP" or "how about you actully do something about nani nani"

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Dear Mr. Peter Dyloco,

Learn to do some research.

The same, however, cannot be said for Japan, where psychiatrists are few and far in between

The percentage of mental health professionals, especially psychiatrists, in Japan is higher than the percentage in the country you cite as being ideal, Australia, and given the relative size differences in terms of land mass you are not even correct in the literal sense of physical distance. If you had bothered to consult even public domain sources, such as the WHO fact book you could have produced a less flawed article.

The problem is not the absence of mental health professionals in Japan, but rather the fact that the average consultation time for a psychiatrist in Japan is under 10 minutes, a time that is totally insufficient for a proper diagnosis. Since Japan has more psychiatrists than comparable countries the question then becomes why are the psychiatrists pushing patients through so quickly. Do they want longer tea breaks? Are the patients interrupting their winning streak at solitaire? No. The patient volume is much higher than other countries. So Mr. Dyloco, the problem is not the absence of mental health professionals, but rather the number of people with mental health problems, and the source is clearly societal.

This isn't the only error, but it would pretty much take a complete re-write to fix all the errors and detail why they're wrong, so I'm just going to briefly detail the other major errors:

The implication that suicide helplines need to be staffed by professionals is wrong. World-wide volunteer-staffed helplines have been shown to be effective. The statement that Japanese education "has yet to do anything concrete about the bullying problem" clearly shows complete ignorance about the interviews being conducted across all grades where students are asked about bullying problems, and the numerous directives from the education authorities advising teachers and schools to take a firmer stance on bullying. What more do you want Mr. Dyloco, cameras in classrooms? "one of the leading causes of suicide in Japan, however, is “karojisatsu”" - Out of a total suicide rate of 33 000 less than 1000 cases were formally claimed as karojisatsu, and less than half that will probably be found to meet the criteria for karojisatsu after investigationn. This to claim that this is "the leading cause of suicide in Japan" is not "arguable" as you claim Mr. Dyloco, but rather ridiculous.

... I could continue to rip this article apart, but I think it isn't worth my time, and I am not Mr. Dyloco's fact checker, despite the fact that he clearly and desperately needs one. I would not accept this quality of work from an undergraduate.

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Japan tops the list in terms of suicide among the middle-aged, which I suppose isn't hard to understand considering the financial/work-related pressures that affect the middle-aged here. And certainly more needs to be done to help people who need it.

When it comes to suicides by the young however, Japan ranks behind New Zealand, Finland, Norway, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, the US, Ireland, Austria, Sweden, France, Denmark, Germany (young males) and behind Austria, New Zealand, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland (young females). So what is Japan doing right that those countries are doing wrong?

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8,000 yen is not too expensive for the average person

What average person are you talking about? I consider myself as having a fairly average income (200,000/mo). After rent and food/bills/necessities, I have almost none left. Certainly there is no money to afford even one session/mo. It is far, far, far too expensive for someone average like me. If it was free, though, I would definitely take advantage of the services of a counselor. :/

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The rate can be deceiving. If you have a large percent of a very small population jumping ship, suddenly, it can look like a gross problem.

The total numbers must also be looked at.

For example, in the USA, almost the same 33k~ or so jump ship despite the presence of 'the Happiest Place on Earth' and other nice aspects of life here. 11th ranked killer of Americans.

So even though we don't have the same rate, we've got the huge numbers as well. Add to that, soldiers going heavely awol is yet another US problem.

That said, who dictates when YOU get to go? Who's in charge of YOUR life? YOU want to be hooked up to tubes forever? Or go when you want to go? Die in pain? Or die by choice?

It's not as if we are all to live FOREVER, and those who face death know that they are making a choice as to WHEN - since they know they can't stall the fact they WILL go someday.

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8,000 Yen is not too bad for a session as some doctors charge twice that.

Now here is where the cost comes in those Doctors are NOT covered by medical aid and usually expect to be paid on the spot and in cash.

So on average for a weekly session you are looking at around 40.000Yen-month out of your household budget + m eds(those are covered by medical) which can set you back another 5.000-15.000Yen-month.

Add to that those doctors are by a ppointment only, so there might also be a time-loss impact on your Job, most doctors will book you for the same time and day every week.

I once asked at a few doctors for a 1st c onsultation, most would set the date at least 2 weeks later.

Agree, there are a ton of those Doctors out there, walk a bit around any train station and you should find a few. Also agree that the max 10-min c onsultation s ession do nothing besides(How are you?, Ok?, That sounds ok/bad., Same m edication? Till next week?, etc)

The good ones that do hour+ se ssions will bleed you try f inancially and your average h ousehold will struggle to afford those.

Excuse the spaces, but I can"t be arsed to find out which words are on the ban list.

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The overwork issue is the workers fault. They have to fight back. Just think, the article says there is no government regulation. Failed politics. What else is new?

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Pointless article with nothing new to offer. Japan's culture encourages this behavior and has nothing substantial in place to change that fact. Until mental health care and rational thinking about pressures at work, home and school take root, the numbers will continue to be high.

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I think this article fails to differentiate between a psychiatrist and a psychologist. The psychiatrist will only give you some tablets to make you feel better and has rarely the time for extended counseling sessions. It is just a temporary solution. If you need to solve the root of the problem, you need to see a psychologist.

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saborichan: "And I dont think 'karoshi' qualifies as suicide!"

The article is a bit vague. I thought the same thing when it mentioned 'death from overwork', but it later goes on to explain that overwork leads to depression, and then suicide. I think there's a bit of a distinction between that and simply dying from working too much.

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Great insight hokaidoguy and kujirani. Hermione: 200,000 is way below average in JAPAN (do some googling)The average is 315,000 and that does not include bonuses!

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the pursuit of such a goal may take quite some time.

Meanwhile, 33,000 die needlessly each year with no end in sight.

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That is something I didn`t know - is a visit to the psychiatrist not covered under medical insurance here? Or is that 8000 yen still the 30% we have to pay ourselves?

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Depends many psychiatrists(like my GP), psychologists also hold other medical certificates.

As was said the psychiatrist here gives you the meds, you get the real counseling at the psychologist(there is currently no goverment test for them, that is why they cannot prescribe medicine and fees are not covered by medical).

So the 8.000+ you pay yourself.

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I know psychologists in Tokyo charge minimum 10,000 and usually a lot more - I have been referring students to them for years ;)!

But I didn`t know about psychiatrists - I assumed as medical practitioners they would be covered by insurance. 8000 yen seems a bit steep. Then again, my OBGYN charged similar amounts each visit when I was pregnant and I never could figure out if I was paying 30% or the full amount. It changed week to week too.

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Why not make it free if it helps?

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Nothing is free. Someone has to pay for it.

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No one has mentioned the stigma of mental health issues. Seems like a big part of the problem. There may be adequate mental health facilities, but if people are too embarrassed/ashamed to use them, then there will be sick people who resort to suicide.

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Most of the facilities I know are full, surprising high number of "stay at home-moms".

I know of 6 ladies in my sons class that are under treatment.

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There's too much pressure in Japan, especially in the cities. People are too densely packed together, companies demand so much that it robs people of their individuality, and the school system puts too much pressure on its youth. By the time students make it to college, they are basically burnt out. And many university curriculums are filled with classes on preparing students for work, and not on fundamental subjects. With its non-aggressive constitution and overall nice level of safety, Japan should loosen up its laws somewhat and start letting its citizens do the same. Make cities nicer by making trees a priority over power lines and close down more parts of downtowns to cars. Turn down the blaring lights everywhere at night because that is when most people sleep.

In Japan, people know how to work hard, in Europe, people know how to live.

Putting up blue lights in subway systems won't decrease the suicide rate, however making Japan a less stressful country and giving more freedoms to its citizens will. Eliminate the 'mass holiday system' and let employees choose exactly when they'd like to take their holidays. This place is such a pressure cooker, it's no wonder why so many people drink.

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If people simply worked less and spent more time with their friends and family and doing things they enjoy, I'm quite sure that this would greatly reduce the number of suicides. Not only would people be happier and less stressed-out but they would also be able to help out loved ones who were going through a hard time or support children who were being bullied at school.

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Lovejapan, is your number the average for men, women, everyone put together (find the chart of men vs. women salaries and it's quite sad), new workers, old workers, etc.? What field? All fields?

A lot of young people in Tokyo may make only around 180,000 a month when they start. The average starting salary for a college graduate is usually around 180-200,000, depending on the field. Of course, many are still living at home or are living in company dormitories, which probably helps. If any are married or have children at that age, they're probably s-o-l.

So if they're in their first couple of years at a job, then yes, 200,000 is totally average. It's when you've been at the job several years that you start to realize how crap that salary is.

I'd say that younger people would have a lot of trouble affording mental health, but the way people hoard money in Japan, the older (as in 40s or 50s rather than 20s or 30s) folks should have no problem. Maybe it would be considered a frivolous expense, and then if you're working 80 hours a week, when would you fit in that appointment?

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One thing I know for sure is that if you go to a psychiatrist at a University Hospital it is covered by the national health system and not expensive at all. But if there is any other way to avoid this, don't go unless it is a really serious condition. Anyway, in the end, the only thing that helps is what dolphingirl said.

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Nothing is free because everyone wants a big chunk of someone else`s money. Which is the reason society is a mess in the first place. Taxes should more than they do. Money is just wasted.

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Everyone has the right to jump ship if they arent happy. Free counseling benefits the cry for helpers. The serious ones know what they are doing and know how to hide it. Its the people that take their family or others with them that should be the focus of preventative measures.

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 (find the chart of men vs. women salaries and it's quite sad)

Possibly, but the chart of men vs. women suicides -- the subject of this article -- is sadder still. And the article is silent on this very important imbalance.

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"Many in Japan still view suicide as an honorable deed and a viable alternative. "

This is not such a bad thing in and of itself. However, too many of these suicidal people take innocent people with them, and if they don't they leave behind so many affected people. If, say, each suicide has left 10 people (friends, family, associates) in a very bad emotional and/or financial state, then each year there are about 350,000 people in very bad straits due to suicide in Japan, over a million citizens every three years. That obviously is a problem of devastating proportions.

The author is obviously an amateur, but does refocus our attention on such a negative drag on J-society. So, thanks for that.

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I know of 6 ladies in my sons class that are under treatment.

Zenny - it sounds like being a single and foreign dad these women feel more comfortable talking to you or having you "know" than other mums. In my "group" no-one would ever tell anyone else but I suspect at least 10 and I know they all think I am getting psychiatric help - I actively cultivate a crazy image to keep te PTA at bay!

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I've lived here for a decade and have always said that, living in Japan sucks the life out of people. Have a look at the faces of people on the morning trains. There are three kinds of people. Those with a permanent scowl, those with an empty apathetic stare and those sitting there mumbling to themselves and that is all! It is very rare to see people that are actually happy and enjoying themselves. There is no love of life in Japan so a high suicide rate is inevitable. Psychiatrists cannot fix a broken culture.

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I do not want to advocate in favor of mass suicide, but some people cannot handle their situations, stress, etc., and choose suicide. Who are we to say that this is wrong? We should each be allowed to choose our own way to die, if we want to...

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Japan is far behind in the medical field. As stated psychiatric help isn't even considered a medical practice by most people.

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