It’s now a month since freshmen, finally freed from the stressful life of studying to pass rigorous university entrance exams, began their new lives at their new schools.
April was also when newly hired workers began working at companies, gently easing into their new environments.
Then comes Golden Week, which this year was 10 days long for those lucky enough to have had the option of taking an extra three days off during the middle of the holiday-studded period.
The frenetic month of April, followed by the long break at the beginning of May, could cause the newcomers to college campuses or company offices to suffer from “Gogatsubyo,” literally translated as “May disease.”
What is it?
Psychiatrist Hiromi Okuda calls the malady “a depressed state of mind” in her book “Buka wo Utsu ni Shinai Joshi no Kyokasho” (“Textbook on How to Prevent Your Subordinate from Being Subjected to Depression”). She says it is caused by a wide variety of events occurring at the same time in spring.
Symptoms include lack of motivation or a feeling of malaise, poor appetite, difficulty sleeping and the inability to enjoy pleasurable pursuits.
Even though it is called May disease, it is not an official sickness that can be defined in medical terms, according to psychiatrist Takehiko Kasuga, who oversaw the information included in the book “Senmoniga Kotaeru Q&A Utsubyo” (“Q&A on Depression a Medical Specialist Answers”).
Broadly speaking, May disease refers to the apathy some freshmen and newly hired employees find themselves suffering after Golden Week.
Tokyo Gakugei University associate professor Miko Omori, who is also a psychiatrist at the university’s counseling center, says the rate it hits students increases after April.
“The number of students who visit the center hits a peak in May and June, as some of them claim the symptoms in June,” she said.
What causes May disease?
Changes in a person’s living or working environment, which leads to an accumulation of physical fatigue or stress, can be attributed to causing May disease.
For example, the environment of newly employed workers fresh out of school drastically changes, bringing with it greater responsibilities.
“Some of them leave their parents’ home to live alone,” said Okuda. “They have to prepare meals, do laundry and clean up all by themselves — things that used to be handled by their mothers.”
The inability to adapt to these changes in their environments or in the new relationships around them can also cause May disease, says Kotaro Murakami, a pharmacist and a professor at Sojo University in Kumamoto Prefecture, who acted as an adviser for the book “Kusuri Irazuno Katei no Igaku” (“Family Medicine that Doesn’t Use Drugs”).
Their high energy levels are drained after a month, which coincides with the end of Golden Week in May, Okuda wrote in her book.
Taizo Sugano, a clinical psychotherapist and director of the Tokyo Counseling Center, agrees.
“People start working with great enthusiasm in April, then suddenly the long vacation comes when they stop working and take holidays of, say, seven to 10 days,” he said, pointing out there is no other period during the year when the energy gap is greater.
Are students and new employees the only ones who suffer from May disease?
Not necessarily. According to Okuda, it is commonly seen “among young, new company employees” as well as workers “who were transferred to a different section” or “who came to have a new boss or colleagues” during the new fiscal year.
Okuda goes on to note there is an increasing number of people claiming similar symptoms in September, so there are cases of “September disease” since some companies have personnel reshuffles then, as well.
People who undergo drastic changes in their personal lives, such as getting married, giving birth or becoming pregnant, may also find themselves suffering from May disease, Okuda said.
“You burn more energy physically and mentally (in those cases),” she said.
In terms of character, someone “who tries to be nice too much, who is serious and well-organized, or who is introverted” is likely to suffer from the symptom, according to Murakami of Sojo University.
“People who had expected too much from the new life or those who entered a new stage of their life with inadequate mental preparation” are apparently prone to May disease as well, he said.
When was May disease first recognized?
It was first referred to when some students who had the condition were noticed about 40 years ago, according to Sugano of the Tokyo Counseling Center.
About 20 years later, it became noticeable among salaried workers as well, he said.
Can May disease or something similar be found outside Japan?
Kasuga says May disease is similar to a symptom dubbed “student apathy,” which was first documented by Paul Walters of Harvard University in 1961.
Kasuga points out that the condition may also be similar to something called burnout syndrome.
This term was coined in the 1970s by German-born American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, who defined it as a “state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s professional life.”
How can you get over May disease?
If the condition is not that serious, people tend to recover naturally if they can live more orderly lives with fewer assignments, and also by trying to avoid tense situations, according to Okuda.
However, if the condition is serious enough to affect a person’s work or lifestyle, it then becomes necessary to consult a doctor, Okuda said.
Murakami points out that May disease could lead to depression if it is prolonged, adding that the important thing is to be patient and not stress oneself.
“Don’t think too much all by yourself. It’s important to talk to your friends or family members about the matter,” he said.
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