Japan must address suicide’s social angle to stop it, experts say


Suicide should be recognized as a social rather than individual problem, and the government and society need to take proactive measures to prevent it, panelists at a suicide symposium in Tokyo recently said.

Suicides in 2007 surpassed 30,000 for the 10th straight year, but the government hasn’t bothered to analyze who was doing it and why.

“Although the basic law on suicide prevention has been enforced since 2006, the government has not clarified the actual situations surrounding the suicides. That’s why its suicide prevention plan has been ineffective,” Yasuyuki Shimizu, head of the Tokyo-based nonprofit organization Lifelink Suicide Prevention Action Network, said at the symposium Sunday.

Experts and Lifelink compiled a nearly 500-page report in July that analyzes police data and interviews with family members of 305 people who killed themselves.

The report shows that suicide is triggered by an average of four linked factors: depression, anxiety, family rifts and debt. It also explains the problem’s geographical distribution based on gender, age group and rationale.

The places with the highest suicide rates are usually industrial areas, according to lawyer Teruyuki Ogoshi. He said workmen’s compensation claims are highest in the manufacturing sector, where long hours and night shifts instituted in the name of global competition are being linked to overwork and depression — two major factors in suicides, he said.

Professor Shinji Miyadai of Tokyo Metropolitan University and professor Kang Sang-jung of the University of Tokyo argued that the suicide rate is high here because society lacks networks for mutual help.

Miyadai said it is a shame that Japan ranks second in suicides among the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development countries.

“In Japan, people can become so desperate that they’re driven to suicide just because of economic hardship,” he said. “We should do something about such a society.”

Kang said: “In the United States, people can have a second chance in life, but not in Japan. People in other countries know that they’re not abandoned by their society, but Japanese people feel strongly that they are.”

“Many relatives cannot tell others that their family member committed suicide,” said Yoshifumi Fujimoto, who lost his mother when he was 19. “Now I speak up and tell people about how I struggled and how my feelings (toward my mother) changed because it may be helpful for suicide prevention.”