The Health and Welfare Ministry is planning to conduct extensive research on a growing legion of people who refuse to go to school or work, choosing instead to remain at home for long periods of time, ministry officials said Thursday.

In around three years, the ministry will draw up innovative guidelines based on this research to provide care and help to those families affected by this escalating social problem, the officials said.

The ministry will conduct the survey with the help of some 650 local health centers and mental health and welfare centers nationwide to ascertain the severity of the problem and to assess the care that is currently available, they said.

According to one estimate, the numbers of people exhibiting such behavior runs into hundreds of thousands, and experts say reclusive people aged 18 or older can be a particularly serious burden on families as they can sometimes become violent.

While some guidance has been offered by local consultation centers for juveniles, the provision of care for adults has been insufficient, according to the officials.

Many families are subsequently at a loss as to what they should or can do to combat the problem.

On Friday, a group of parents from Saitama Prefecture who have reclusive children is planning to visit the health ministry to submit a petition calling on officials to seek government help on the matter.

The group comprises 170 families. Some 80 percent of their family members experiencing such problems are aged 18 or older, with the oldest being 38.

The group says only 15 percent of the families concerned have yet to experience violence, with the rest experiencing either verbal or physical abuse.

The ministry is also concerned that reclusion could result in antisocial behavior — as in the case of a reclusive man from Niigata Prefecture suspected of abducting a 9-year-old girl and confining her at his home for nine years until this January.

The government-affiliated Mental Health Center for Young People will begin conducting the survey at health centers across the country, the results of which will be compiled by the end of this year, officials said.

Each center will be asked to report on the cases they have handled over the past year.

Specifically, they will be asked about case numbers, what treatment was offered and whether the number of cases is rising. They will also be asked about profiles of people who sought advice, including their age and the period of treatment.

Measures to deal with reclusive people, including drawing up the planned support guidelines, will be worked out primarily by a team of researchers led by Junichiro Ito, a psychiatry expert at the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry, the officials said.

The team will analyze data gathered from the research, looking into the more well-known problematic cases, examining what medical treatment is currently available and what help the government can offer, according to the officials.

They will then draw up a provisional version of the guidelines aimed at providing advice on what help local health centers can offer.

To gauge the effectiveness of the guidelines, the team will also conduct “model activities” that could be emulated by local health officials.

These would include home visits for people receiving treatment at health centers as well as counseling.

A final version will then be produced and offered to local health authorities for use, the ministry officials said.

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