Major effort launched to cut suicide rate

by Reiji Yoshida

The government set a target Monday of reducing the number of suicides to around 25,000 a year over the next decade, adopting 47 measures centered on boosting counseling services.

There were 32,325 suicides in 2004, or 25.3 per 100,000 people.

The government will also implement more measures in five years to cut the figure by 20 percent, following examples set by such countries as Finland.

Japan, which saw a sharp surge in the number of suicides in 1998, now has one of the worst rates among developed countries.

According to a comparison of figures for 2000 by the World Health Organization, the suicide rate here was 24.1 per 100,000 people, the 10th highest in the world. The figure was 39.4 for Russia, 17.5 for France, 13.6 for Germany, 11.7 for Canada, 10.4 for the United States, 7.5 for Britain and 7.1 for Italy.

Meanwhile, Finland cut its suicide rate to 21.0 in 2002 from 27.6 in 1987 by setting numerical targets and increasing public support for people deemed at risk of attempting or have attempted suicide.

Among the 47 measures formally adopted during a bureau chief-level meeting of government ministries are:

Setting up a suicide prevention office at the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry to offer accurate information on suicide prevention.

* Promoting public counseling services at schools, agricultural cooperatives and business associations.

* Increasing fences and automatic gates on railway platforms to prevent people from jumping in front of trains.

* Providing filters to block viewing of Web sites that promote suicide.

* Promoting basic statistical analysis of numbers, motivation, methods and other factors of suicides.

The number of suicides had hovered around 25,000 in the early 1990s but jumped to 32,863 in 1998 from 24,391 the previous year. Since then the figure has been above 30,000.

One factor in the 1998 surge was a sharp increase in suicides by men in their 40s and 50s, according to the government.

A health ministry official who briefed reporters said experts are not in agreement on the causes of the sudden jump of 1998, but it was probably connected to drastic social changes taking place around that time, such as an economic crisis and collapse of the lifetime employment practice at many major companies.

According to figures for 2003 — the latest available — suicide was the No. 1 cause of death for males aged 20 to 44 and for females aged 15 to 34, according to the health ministry.