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Suicide in Japan 2010- Seeing in the New Year


Abstract: As a practicing psychologist and psychotherapist here in Tokyo I have been working for just over two decades with people who are suffering depression and feeling suicidal because, among other reasons, there have no hope of starting again if they have lost their jobs or gone bankrupt or, if there are still currently employed, are under great stress and in a state of 'constant panic' that leads them to working ever harder and harder to keep their jobs, and so leads them to death by overwork (karoshi) and to depression and suicide (karo-jisatsu). During that time it has been very frustrating at times for many of my Japanese mental health care professionals to read poorly researched and uncaring reports in both the English and Japanese media reports that usually followed the announcement of the annual suicide figures and rarely if ever focus on the deeper economic and social factors behind the problem of too high suicide rates in modern Japan.

Any method of suicide if you see the results at first hand is naturally shocking. It is sad that this man has killed himself. It would be be more useful if articles on suicide on Japan could focus on prevention, stop going through the files (there are more safeguards on the web in Japan now and many more sites focus on providing help and suicide prevention) and also please drop the "shocks.. stuns," kind of adjectives when reporting on the very real and important issue of and problem we face here in trying to address the core problems and bring pratical help hope to those who are depressed and suicidal.

In this article I present the main economic and social factors behind the unacceptably high numbers of suicides in Japan that have consistently exceeded 30,000 deaths every year over the last twelves years since an unprecedented sudden leap of over 33% in 1998 in the annual suicide rate from 24,391 in 1997 to 32,863 1998. Far too often the focus of media attention has been on the methods that some people used to end their lives in Japan, rather than how this problem can be solved with through more proactive local and national suicide prevention programs and measures in combination with deepening the awareness of clinical depression and how this can lead a person to consider suicide as the only way out.

In particular the focus of this article is on how the new administration in Japan, local authorities, community organizations and the media together can take the lead in 2010 to introduce and initiate real, effective and long lasting suicide prevention programs and assistance measures and publicize these initiatives in order to support and finally bring hope again to the people of Japan and prevent this tragic and unnecessary loss of life each year among the Japanese people and make 2010 the year that sees the first significant reduction in suicide in Japan for over a decade so that more people in Japan will see in the New Year in 2011.

32000 people Japan who saw in the New Year on Ist January 2009 did not live to see in the New Year in 2010. Tokyo the number of people who committed suicide in 2009 was announced by the National Police Agency. These people were not among the 5, fatalities nor the murder lowest murder rate in the world.

It is refreshing to see an article on suicide in Japan focus on the fact that it takes political will for any nation to bring about any significant lowering of its suicide rate. Over the past decade western media reports on suicide and mental health care in Japan rarely got it right. I am a JSCCP clinical psychologist and JFP psychotherapist working in Japan for over 20 years.

I would like to put forward a perspective on some of the main reasons behind the unacceptably high suicide numbers in Japan and so will limit my comments to what I know about here in Japan but would first like to suggest that western media reports on suicide rates in Japan should try harder to get away from the tendency to ‘orientalize’ the serious and preventable problem of increased suicide rates here over the last 12 years by reverting to stereotypical ideas of Japanese people in general.

Western media reports on suicide and mental health care in Japan rarely get it right. I am a psychologist and psychotherapist working in Japan for over 20 years and so like all of my colleagues in the mental health care field here share with them the view that copycat suicides have a lot more to do with press and media copy than western misconceptions about relatively more group oriented societies in Asia.

I would like to put forward a perspective on some of the main reasons behind the unacceptably high suicide Japan from Japan and so will limit my comments to what I know about here in Japan but would first like to suggest that western media reports on suicide rates in Asian countries should try harder to get away from the tendency to orientalize the serious and preventable problem of increased suicide rates here over the last 10 years by reverting to stereotypical ideas of Asian people in general. People here do not wake up one day and say, "Hey, let's commit suicide today because I hear it is all the rage in Shanghai and Tokyo and the word is that even the Changs and Suzukis are doing it!" In other words Asians are real people too and not lemmings and it is more than every before the time the world wide media puts aside its mystical cliches, anciently outdated and jaded misconceptions on the hundreds of thousands of men and women who take their own lives every year in Japan and other countries throughout Asia.

It is ludicrous to for any journalist to report suicide as a fad. People here do not wake up one day and say, "Hey, let's commit suicide today because I hear it is all the rage in Shanghai and Tokyo and the word is that even the Changs and Suzukis are doing it!" In other words Asians are real people too and not lemmings and it is more than every before the time the world wide media puts aside its mystical cliches, anciently outdated and jaded misconceptions on the hundreds of thousands of men and women who take their own lives every year in Japan and other countries throughout Asia.

To use the wordsexpressions like "fad suicide fad sweeping Japan" and "nation of suicide" is one of the worst examples of the process of trivialization of a very sad and serious problem to be found in Western media reporting on Japan's very high annual suicide rates over the past 11 years.

First, as for Seppuku, it was officially abolished as a means of judicial punishment in Japan in 1873. Voluntary seppuku did happen on a sporadic basis from then until the end of the second world war. The last recorded incident of seppuku as a means of committing suicide in Japan took place in 1970 when the novelist Yukio Mishima committed seppuku after failing in his attempt to incite military forces to stage a coup d’etat. That is 50 years ago and has nothing to do with the reasons for suicide in the modern 21st century Japan.As for Seppuku, it was officially abolished as a means of judicial punishment in Japan in 1873. Voluntary seppuku did happen on a sporadic basis from then until the end of the second world war. The last recorded incident of seppuku as a means of committing suicide in Japan took place in 1970 when the novelist Yukio Mishima committed seppuku after failing in his attempt to incite military forces to stage a coup d’etat. Also, as other media articles have recently falsely asserted, no corporate directors in post war Japan have ever “done the hara-kiri tradition”, whatever that odd and meaningless expression would try to suggest is the case.

Mental health professionals in Japan have long known that the reason for the unnecessarily high suicide rate in Japan is due to unemployment, bankruptcies, and the increasing levels of stress on businessmen and other salaried workers who have suffered enormous hardship in Japan since the bursting of the stock market bubble here that peaked around 1997. Until that year Japan had annual suicide of rate figures between 22,000 and 24,000 each year. Following the bursting of the stock market and the long term economic downturn that has followed here since the suicide rate in 1998 increased by around 35% and since 1998 the number of people killing themselves each year in Japan has consistently remained well over 30,000 each and every year to the present day.

The current worldwide recession is of course impacting Japan too, so unless the new administration initiates very proactive and well funded local and nationwide suicide prevention programs and other mental health care initiatives, including tackling the widespread problem of clinical depression suffered by so many of the general population, it is very difficult to foresee the previous government's stated target to reduce the suicide rate to around 23,000 by the year 2016 as being achievable. On the contrary the numbers, and the human suffering and the depression and misery that the people who have become part of these numbers, have to endure may well stay at the current levels that have persistently been the case here for the last ten years. It could even get worse unless even more is done to prevent this terrible loss of life.

I did after reading your excellent article entitled, "For suicidal Japanese, help is finally at hand." for the AP. I just want to say that to my knowledge this is the first media article in English that has ever focused on the need for effective well funded and proactive suicide prevention policy and programs at both local and governmental levels, as well as clearly debunking the myths that a lot of western reporters have propagated that stereotype both Japanese people and groundless assertions that the reasons behind the unnecessarily high and tragic numbers of people who have committed suicide in Japan, particularly over the last 12 years since the bursting of the economic bubble, are in some way related to historical practices such as seppuku, bushido spirit or the kamikaze pilots.

In Japan it will take political will and not romanticizing in order to reduce the tragically and unnecessarily high loss of real human life here through suicide. The number and type of cherry trees has nothing to do with the real annual suicide rates here.

As a psychologist and psychotherapist here in Tokyo I have been working for just over two decades with people who are suffering depression and feeling suicidal because, among other reasons, there have no hope of starting again if they have lost their jobs or gone bankrupt or, if there are still employed, are under great stress and in a state of panic that leads, as I am sure you know, to work harder to keep their jobs and so to overwork and karoshi and karo-jisatsu. During that time it has been very frustrating at times to read poorly researched and uncaring reports in both the English and Japanese media reports that usually followed the announcement of the annual suicide figures did not focus on the deeper economic and social factors behind the problem of too high suicide rates in modern Japan.

The current numbers licensed psychiatrists (around 13,000), Japan Society of Certified Clinical Psychologists clinical psychologists (16,732 as of 2007), and Psychiatric Social Workers (39,108 as of 2009) must indeed be increased. In order for professional mental health counseling and psychotherapy services to be covered for depression and other mental illnesses by public health insurance it would seem advisable that positive action is taken to resume and complete the negotiations on how to achieve national licensing for clinical psychologists in Japan through the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and not just the Ministry of Education as is the current situation. These discussions were ongoing between all concerned mental health professional authorities that in the ongoing select committee and ministerial levels that were ongoing during the Koizumi administration. With the current economic recession adding even more hardship and stress in the lives its citizens, now would seem to be a prime opportunity for the responsible Japanese to take a pro-active approach to finally providing government approval for national licensing for clinical psychologists who provide mental health care counseling and psychotherapy services to the people of Japan.

During these last ten years of these relentlessly high annual suicide rate numbers the English media seems in the main to have done little more than have someone goes through the files and do a story on the so-called suicide forest or internet suicide clubs and copycat suicides (whether cheap heating fuel like charcoal briquettes or even cheaper household cleaning chemicals) and mirrors at stations, and now lights at stations, without focusing on the bigger picture and need for effective action and solutions.

I think this kind of reporting does nothing to help focus on the deeper social and economic causes that brought about the extreme rise in the suicide rate in Japan and has taken the number of people here who kill themselves every year in Japan to over 30,000 for the last ten years. The initial sudden rise in the suicide rate in 1998 parallels the economic bubble years of the 1990's that led to the crash of the Japanese stock market and bankrupt companies nationwide. Media reporting in English on this deep and serious problem of the high suicide rate in Japan tends to be very sensational focuses only on small numbers of people among the many thousands of lives and families affected by this tragic situation. Before the media's focus on and creation of terms like 'detergent suicide', it was on 'group suicides' and before then on 'internet suicide clubs'. The actual number of people who killed themselves in these ways over these years never amounted to one or two percent of the total annual number of people who kill themselves here in Japan. If anything the media in general tends to have a desire to talk up by focusing on 'fads' (a terrible word to use in connection with such a tragic loss of life) and never seems to tire of using headlines that include words like "rattles Japan", 'shakes Japan', 'shocks Japan' and 'rocks Japan'. These annual suicide rates do nothing of the sort. If anything it saddens Japan and the friends and families of people who end their lives this way. Sensational headlines, cliched writing and one minute sound bites will never shed any real light on the problem of suicide in Japan; all it is likely to do is send a message of hopelessness and despair to the hundreds of thousands of depressed and unemployed people who are struggling to provide for their families and for themselves.

An interesting post but, although a tragic loss of life, these numbers of people who commit suicide at stations are only a fraction of a percent of the total numbers of people who kill themselves in Japan every year.

Economic hardship, bankruptcies and unemployment have been the main cause of suicide in Japan over the last 10 years, as the well detailed reports behind the suicide rate numbers that have been issued every year until now by the National Police Agency in Japan show only to clearly if any journalist is prepared to learn Japanese or get a bilingual researcher to do the research to get to the real heart of the tragic story of the long term and unnecessarily high suicide rate problem in Japan.

Over the last ten years a lot of progress has been made in overcoming the traditional stigma against admitting to either having a mental illness or admitting to others outside your family that someone in your family is suffering from and/or dealing with a mental illness in their lives. This is particularly true with regards to greater acceptance of depression and anxiety disorders. However, despite the progress in this area and more people being willing talk about depression and more public debate in the Japanese media on this issue, official figures do yet seem to reflect the fact of the high incidence of these and other mental illnesses in Japan.

I wonder if America over-diagnoses it's citizens. Here in Japan it is definitely the case that depression is a massively under-diagnosed mental illnesses and even according to the Ministry of health estimates and studies only 25% of those who suffer with depression are diagnosed or receive any treatment at all. Other estimates put the numbers of people here suffering from depression in the millions. Mental illnesses in Japan are in fact very high but this does not show in official figures and so does not show up in a statistical analysis to the degree it should.

I would also like to suggest that as many Japanese people have very high reading skills in English that any articles dealing with mental health issues in Japan could usefully provide contact details for hotlines and support services for people who are depressed and feeling suicidal.

Some useful telephone numbers and links for residents of Tokyo and Japan who speak Japanese and/or English and are feeling depressed or suicidal and need to get in touch with a mental health professional qualified in Japan:

Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service):

Japan: 0120-738-556

Tokyo: 3264 4343

Andrew Grimes

Tokyo Counseling Services

http://tokyocounseling.com/english/

http://tokyocounseling.com/jp/

Andrew Grimes is a JSCCP licensed Clinical Psychologist and a qualified JFP Psychotherapist living, working and writing in Japan. with over twenty years counseling, psychotherapy and mental health daycare clinical experience in a Tokyo.

Here is some information you could pass on the contributor that he could use to get help from Japanese native speakers:

Useful telephone numbers for Japanese residents of Japan who speak Japanese and are feeling depressed or suicidal: Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service):

Japan: 0120-738-556

Tokyo: 3264 4343

If you believe that he may be about to attempt suicide you should call the Japanese police:

Emergency contact numbers:

Both the police and fire/medical assistance are available 24 hours a day.

110 is the number to the Police Headquarter Command Post, and 119 is to the Fire Department Command and Control Center. They will take your call, and arrange a police car, fire engine, or ambulance in case of emergency.

You can dial 110 and 119 for free. Even from a public phone, you do not need a phone card or money. Hope this may be of some help to you.

All the best, Andrew Grimes.

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