Health ministry statistics show suicides in April fell nearly 20 percent from a year earlier, countering widespread concerns the coronavirus pandemic would drive many to take their lives.

But officials and experts warn there might be a resurgence. Despite April’s figure, they say, the fact remains that the fallout from COVID-19 is taking a toll on the livelihoods and mental health of many across the nation, depriving them of jobs and increasing the risk of domestic violence and child abuse.

The ministry’s monthly statistics show the number of suicides in April stood at 1,455 on a preliminary basis, down 19.8 percent from 1,814 the previous year, marking the biggest year-on-year drop in five years. Speculation soon ensued online that the ongoing school closures and increase in telecommuting may have spared many from distress linked to bullying and overwork.

“It is likely that the coronavirus played no small part in causing” the drop, a ministry official said. But, he emphasized, whether the school closures or remote work had anything to do with it is open to further scrutiny.

Yasuyuki Shimizu, who runs Lifelink, a Tokyo-based nonprofit suicide prevention organization, agreed. Shimizu, however, said there may be a bigger factor at play: a sense of solidarity that often blossoms in a disaster.

Not only does calamity tend to foster camaraderie, as evidenced by online campaigns such as #stayathome, but those who are suicidal sometimes take comfort in the fact there are others like themselves in the throes of angst, he said.

But if history is any indication, this illusion of togetherness may not last long. In May 2011 for example, suicides spiked two months after the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdowns devastated the Tohoku region — far eclipsing the increase marked in April that year. Shimizu warned this could happen again.

“Should the pandemic move toward subsiding, a return to normalcy enjoyed by some people will widen a gap with those still unable to reconstruct their lives. People previously reassured by the plight of others may start to feel as if they are being left behind,” Shimizu said.

Even if it doesn’t, Shimizu said, suicides will likely rise as the pandemic causes financial and domestic strains for many.

Article first published in The Japan Times on May 17.

Warm up

One minute chat about distress.


Collect words related to health,

e.g., hospital, body, life, etc.

New words

1) resurgence: revival, after a period of inactivity, e.g., “There was a resurgence in interest after the documentary was broadcast.”

2) speculation: coming to a certain conclusion with little supporting evidence, e.g., “Speculation abound after the incident.”

3) angst: deep anxiety, e.g., “His poem lamented the angst of human existence.”

Guess the headline

Japan’s drop in s_ _ _ _ _ _s may not hold as fallout from p_ _ _ _ _ _ _ grows


1) What happened with the suicide rate in April 2020?

2) According to the article, what could be behind the change in the suicide rate?

3) Does this article suggest that the suicide rate’s current trajectory will continue?

Let’s discuss the article

1) What do you think about the drop in the suicide rate?

2) What do you think is needed to decrease the number of suicides?

3) Do you think we as individuals can do anything about the situation as described?





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