Worst student suicide rate yet

The National Police Agency says that suicides in Japan topped 30,000 for the ninth consecutive year in 2006. While the total number, 32,155, was down 1.2 percent from 2005, the number of suicides among students, 886 — up 25 (2.9 percent) from 2005 — was the worst since 1978 when the NPA started compiling statistics.

The number of elementary school students who killed themselves doubled from seven to 14. The respective figures for middle and senior high school students increased by 15 (22.7 percent) to 81 and by five (2.3 percent) to 220.

In their suicide notes, 91 mentioned problems at school, an increase of 28.2 percent from 2005 — the largest number since 1998 when the survey of this category began. With or without suicide notes, police attributed school-related problems to 242 suicides, nine more than in 2005. For many children, school has become a hard place in which to survive.

Some students apparently feel pressure because of poor performance records. Bullying, too, must be a big factor. A series of student suicides followed the announcement by the Takigawa, Hokkaido, Board of Education in October 2006 that the death of a sixth-grade girl in January 2006 was the result of her suicide attempt in 2005 over a bullying problem.

The government’s recently adopted guidelines for suicide prevention correctly state that any suicide is not the result of a free decision by an individual, but instead reflects feelings of being cornered by various problems. They call for preventive education of both children and teachers as well as improvement of school counseling services. Still, it would be more important to build an overall environment at school that does not induce suicide. The guidelines appear short on this count. Educators and local governments must consider long-term efforts.

The suicide rate in Japan is the second worst among the Group of Eight nations after Russia. The guidelines spell out a variety of measures aimed at reducing the rate by 20 percent by 2016 from the 24.2 per 100,000 people in 2005. Close cooperation among local governments, enterprises and communities is essential.