Why is Japan's Suicide Rate Rising?

The Mystery Reporter

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Suicide remains one of the top reasons for death in Japan. The country ranked seventh for having the highest suicide rate in the OECD countries in 2017. The primary reason behind the ever-growing suicide rate in Japan remains mental health issues, financial problems, and employment instability.

Japan entered the developed world a long time ago. Unfortunately, the country’s culture still stigmatizes talking about mental health, depression, or stress. Deteriorating mental health is often seen as a sign of weakness in Japan. In 2021, Japan had a suicide rate of 15.3 per 100,000 persons.

Furthermore, the nation has long glamorized the idea of committing suicide. One of the famous examples is the Kamikaze suicide attacks (a practice of taking one’s own life instead of surrendering). They were idealized by the imperial government during World War II.

The Japanese government has started taking many initiatives to prevent people from committing suicide. The nation’s youth also contributes by establishing private NGOs to help bring people out of the suicidal zone.

Japanese Men Are More Prone to Committing Suicide

According to a 2019 report, 70% of Japanese men took their lives by committing suicide. The mortality rate of Japanese men rose strikingly during 2020 amidst COVID-19. Research says that Japanese men commit suicide as they are more susceptible to financial stress. They have to look after their families, and in case of a poor financial state, men consider suicide a safer option. They believe that this way, at least their families will be paid funds which will help them survive.

Suicide Rate Peaked in Japan During the Asian Financial Crisis

The Asian Financial Crisis affected Japan viciously in 1998. Companies were laying off their employees. The Japanese working class was the primary victim of the Asian Financial Crisis as people did not have money to afford their basic needs.

The economic hardship caused a sharp rise in the suicide rate in Japan. 25.3 per 100,000 persons preferred suicide over living in 1998. Japan’s suicide rate gradually decreased after 1998, until 2020, when the deadly Coronavirus came.

COVID-19 Revived the Suicide Streak in Japan

According to the Japanese government, more people died by suicide than by corona in the year 2020. Japan’s National Police Agency recorded 2,153 deaths by suicide in October 2020, whereas Japan’s Health Ministry documented 2,087 deaths due to COVID-19. It was an alarming state for Japan. Depression and isolation were the leading cause of suicide in 2020.

Factors Contributing to Japan’s Ever-Increasing Suicide Rate

Depression and Health-Related Issues

Depression remains the leading cause of suicide in Japan. According to a 2020 report, 49% of Japanese people committed suicide due to health issues (inclusive of mental and physical stress). The root cause of depression was identified later in government-initiated research. Unemployment and financial insecurity are highlighted as the root cause of depression among Japanese.

Financial Pressure

17% of Japanese people killed themselves due to financial pressures, including insufficient income and unstable jobs. In 2015, a destitute Japanese man boarded the bullet train and set himself on fire. He died a brutal death, risking the lives of others too.

It was later discovered that the man lived alone and had no money to survive on. Loneliness and poverty forced the 71-year-old man to take his life. Japanese people suffer from the feeling of job insecurity on a daily basis because of which the stress levels in the average Japanese person are always raging. Furthermore, a toxic work environment has also contributed to the rising rate of suicide in Japan.

Abusive Household

Japan shows prominent patterns of a toxic household where abuse is commonly witnessed. High bars are set for children academically. The children fear failure and opt for suicide as an easy way out upon facing academic shortcomings.

The stories of abusive households are far worse than just academic pressures. In March 2020, Koki Ozora, a 21-year-old university-goer, started a suicide prevention hotline to help people in crises. He said that he daily received calls from victims of domestic abuse and sexual abuse. He stated:

“I’ve been accepting messages like I’m being raped by my father, or my husband tried to kill me. Women send these kinds of texts almost every day, and it’s increasing.” (Koki Ozora)

Japanese Culture Stigmatizes Discussing Mental Health Problems

The discussion of deteriorating mental health is taboo in Japan even in the advanced age of 2021. The problem is deep-rooted as generations of Japanese people have long been raised with the ideology of seeing depression as a sign of weakness. Talking about being in a mentally low state is viewed as something shameful.

In the 1990s, Japan listed depression as a health disorder after a row of discussions. A practice called “Hikikomori” adds to the rising suicide rate. Hikikomori is an intense form of social withdrawal. One might observe Hikikomori for months or even years after facing difficulties like poverty, being bullied, broken love life, or an abusive family. Such forms of isolation instigate Japanese people to commit suicide.

Suicide is Viewed as an Honorable Practice

Suicide is often viewed as an honorable deed among the Japanese. In the old Japanese era, Japanese warriors, known as Samuria, practiced “Seppuku” when they faced failure in the battleground. Seppuku was the practice of cutting one’s belly open with a sword to release the spirit of Samurai upon the enemy.

The Samurais avoided torture and shameful death by observing Seppuku (also known as harakiri). Seppuku was modified into Kamikaze suicide bombings during World War II. The imperial government initiated the kamikaze program, and these suicide attacks were labeled as an honourable sacrifice for the country.

Glorification of suicide in Japan dates back to the rise of Imperial Japan. The deep-rooted cultural problem has contributed to increasing rates of suicides in Japan as the Japanese consider suicide a better solution than seeking professional help.

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