The number of suicides in Japan in 2000 fell 3.3 percent to 31,957 for the first annual drop in six years but stayed above 30,000 for the third straight year, the National Police Agency said Thursday.

The NPA said in a report that while there were less suicides overall in 2000, more people killed themselves because of economic or livelihood concerns, such as debt and unemployment.

Men and women aged 50 and above accounted for about 60 percent of suicides.

The NPA also reported that the number of people who walked out on their families rose 10.1 percent in 2000 to 97,268. There was a large increase in the number of these people in their 30s to 50s — the typical age bracket of breadwinners.

The annual number of suicides stayed within the 20,000-25,000 range after the agency first started recording statistics in 1978 before jumping above 30,000 in 1998.

The NPA report was based on autopsies in cases of unnatural deaths handled by police nationwide. It differs from the the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s population survey, which also covers suicides, as that survey only covers Japanese nationals.

Of last year’s suicides, 22,727 — or about 70 percent — were by men, down 785 from the previous year, and 9,230 were by women, down 306.

Health problems were the most common cause of suicide, accounting for 15,539 cases, down 791 from the previous year, with suicide notes left in 3,977 of the cases, the report says.

Concerns over livelihood accounted for 6,838 suicides, up 80, with suicide notes left in 2,927 cases.

In cases where suicide notes were not left, motives were determined by questioning the families.

The largest number of suicides were committed by those without jobs, a category that includes students and the elderly, at 14,959, down 508, according to the report.

The number of suicides by those who lost their jobs increased 139 from the previous year to 1,335, while the number of self-employed workers taking their own lives rose 86 to 4,366, the report says.

Experts warn that the number of suicides in this category could increase further as the nation undergoes the tough economic reforms advocated by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. The government admits these reforms will lead to more unemployment in the near term.

By age, 10,997 of the suicides were age 60 or older, while those in their 50s accounted for 8,245.

The report says the number of suicides dropped 11.3 percent among those aged 19 or under, 10.2 percent for those in their 40s, 0.5 percent for those in their 50s and 1.1 percent for those over 60.

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