I think the interesting argument made by Michael Hoffman in his June 24 article — that depression from the workplace can lead to a desire to join a doomsday cult — makes some sense.
In my experience, the depression that often goes unacknowledged as well as untreated by both Japanese and non-Japanese people leads to many kinds of self-harming actions such as suicide, cutting and substance abuse, just to name a few.
From what I’ve observed from living in Japan, people still find depression to be a shameful topic. People who suffer from depression don’t want to suffer, of course, but the “24 percent of Japanese” (cited by Hoffman) deemed likely to suffer some form of mental illness, depression in particular, in their lifetime often face a cultural stigma. In a typical work environment in Japan, taking sick leave for a cold is considered not good. But to seek treatment for depression? Nobody does that.
So, it comes as no surprise when Hoffman writes that “at least 60 percent of Japan’s workforce” are said to suffer from stress, since I see people fighting with the flu and colds and still coming to work. Because of the cultural stigma, no one knows the warning signs of depression in the Japanese workplace.
If you have no fever, no runny nose and no doctor’s note, then you aren’t considered sick. If a school talks about depression, it’s seen as a sickness that still allows you to work. There is no escape and no help. As Hoffman writes: “Suffer in silence is the rule most people continue to play by.” Indeed, as the suicide rates rise, there are quiet screams within the culture for help that nobody hears. That silence is killing people from the inside out.
Opening up a dialogue about depression and mental illness should be a workplace priority. I don’t see it happening anytime soon, but the problem needs to be addressed just like the flu season or heart disease. I would like to see pamphlets with phone hot lines for people who need to talk and with warning signs of depression. There’s no reason for these people to suffer in silence. Depression is treatable. Help can be found for those who need it most.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.