The phenomenon of social withdrawal by people uneasy about interacting with others is a common problem in Japan, especially among teenagers, the results of a survey indicate.
According to a nationwide survey conducted by leading education critic Naoki Ogi, about 60 percent of respondents said they felt social withdrawal was a “familiar problem,” while 29 percent said they knew of such sufferers.
The survey of about 2,900 individuals, conducted in November and December and released Tuesday, is the first on the issue, Ogi said. Of the respondents, 24 percent were teachers and 28 percent were parents, he said.
The term social withdrawal is becoming more familiar in Japan, the survey revealed, with 95 percent of respondents saying they had heard of it.
Of them, more than half had learned of it for the first time within the last three years.
Despite the apparent awareness, however, society has yet to perceive withdrawal as a problem, with 74 percent of respondents believing society does not recognize it.
Asked if there were people close to them who had withdrawn from society, 29 percent of respondents said there were. Of them, 27 percent said they were family members or kin.
Of those who have withdrawn from society, 41 percent were aged 15 or younger, 24 percent were aged 16 to 18, and 19 percent were aged 19 to 23. The phenomenon was twice as common among males.
Asked what other problems they associated with the phenomenon, the respondents cited nonattendance at school, mental maladies and a fear of contact with other people.
The survey also uncovered severe domestic situations resulting from family members suffering from social withdrawal, including people refusing to leave home, refusing to meet others and refusing to bathe. Other behaviors include playing video games or watching television all night and sleeping during the daytime, and children denying parents access to their rooms and blaming them for their mental state.
In an extreme example, one mother every day after returning home from work was told by her reclusive son to go out until midnight while he stayed home and watched TV. She obeyed him.
The impression the respondents had of the phenomenon varied depending on their age groups, with 42 percent of the respondents in their 20s saying they think increasing stress in modern society is a major cause of the condition, while 39 percent of the respondents in their 60s attributed it to the “selfishness” of those of younger generations.
Some of the respondents whose family members had withdrawn from society said mothers’ excessive pampering of their sons caused the condition, while others said fathers leaving the child-rearing burden on the mothers caused it.
Others said their family members had suffered the condition after they were bullied at school or at work.
In releasing the poll results, Ogi said society must take action to help people who withdraw from society.
“We should take measures such as establishing support facilities to assist people who withdraw from society,” he said.
Tamaki Saito, a psychiatrist familiar with the problem, said he was surprised the issue was recognized by so many people, but remained fearful that sufferers may be assumed by society to be potential criminals.
Saito said the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry needs to take systematic measures to tackle the problem and train experts to a national standard, as the way it is currently handled varies by location.
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