Parents whose offspring are in a state of “hikikomori,” or social withdrawal, face a lack of public support, social stigma and financial difficulties, according to a survey compiled by a renowned education critic.
The issue has become increasingly serious due to the aging of the parents, according to Naoki Ogi, chief of the privately run Center for Clinical Research on School Development, located in the western Tokyo suburb of Machida.
Ogi surveyed 585 parents whose offspring had withdrawn from society and found that 82 percent of them were 50 years old or older. The average age of the respondents’ offspring was 26.6, with 60 percent in their late 20s and 30s, said Ogi, who unveiled the poll results at a news conference Tuesday in a Tokyo hotel.
As the state of social withdrawal can drag on for years, the physical, psychological and financial burdens on the aging parents are enormous, Ogi said.
For the purposes of the survey, Ogi defined social withdrawal as a situation in which people aged 15 or older withdraw to their (parents’) homes for periods of more than six months due to reasons other than mental disorders and are unable to participate in social activities.
The condition is complex and usually brought on by a combination of problems, including bullying and experiences of excessive stress at school or in the workplace, according to some experts. In some cases, it involves personal relationship-related problems, while in others, such problems do not seem to play a role.
Although Ogi’s definition excludes cases involving mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia, some experts say that withdrawal could be triggered by mental disorders.
About 62 percent of the poll respondents sought help from medical professionals, while 53 percent consulted family support groups. The survey also showed that 33 percent felt hospitals provided some help, while 58 percent said family support groups were helpful.
According to the survey, many parents who visited hospitals and other public institutions to seek help were rejected because they were not accompanied by their troubled offspring.
Ogi said in the report that medical and public welfare practitioners should try to understand the condition and listen to the parents even if they come seeking help without their offspring in tow.
Ogi pointed out that the realities of social withdrawal are hard to grasp, because only a fraction of the sufferers come forward to seek help — whether from professional counselors or from self-support groups.
Masahisa Okuyama, head of a nationwide self-support group for parents of socially withdrawn offspring that helped compile the survey, said many parents are vexed by the lack of public understanding on the issue.
“Social withdrawal is very hard to understand, because each family has a different story,” Okuyama said. “Plus, there is a feeling (in society) that regards the issue only as a parent-child relationship problem. (But) this is not an issue that can be solved by parents only.”
The survey was conducted in January and February at meetings of a nationwide support group headed by Okuyama.
Ogi estimates that as many as 800,000 people nationwide suffer from the condition.
The survey was the second on the issue conducted by Ogi. Last April, he compiled the responses of 2,900 citizens who were sent questionnaires on the issue. A breakdown of the respondents was not provided.
In the first survey, about 95 percent of the respondents said they had heard of the condition, while 29 percent said they knew of such sufferers.
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