National / Social Issues

Nonprofits step up help for school-shy students at time when suicide numbers rise

Kyodo

Nonprofit groups are ramping up efforts to help students who feel driven into a corner as suicide rates tend to spike around the end of the summer holidays.

The groups are offering a range of services such as free consultations and help in finding a temporary alternative school, targeting those students who are reluctant to return to their regular ones because they feel burdened by exam pressure, bullying or overbearing teachers.

The groups’ message: Life is bigger than school.

A government white paper on suicide prevention last year showed that high numbers of people under the age of 18 attempt suicide around Sept. 1, right at the end of the summer break.

The data showed a consistent tendency stretching back 40 years.

A loose grouping of around 90 nonprofit organizations have been trying to offer alternatives. The effort’s slogan is “If you find it hard to return to school after summer, remember you can come here.”

The project was launched by a group of operators of free schools, private, unaccredited facilities that typically offer a loose daily schedule. Public schools count the number of days pupils spend at free schools as part of their regular attendance.

Its website offers information on around 15 organizations in nine prefectures that offer assistance. The site, at www.freeschoolnetwork.jp , also advises children where to turn for further advice.

The project was set up by the operators of Crane Harbor, a free school in the city of Nagasaki. The school is running a consultation center this week for children to attend if they find it too difficult to face returning to their scheduled classes.

“There is a widespread societal belief that children are not allowed to miss school, and that makes them feel under pressure,” said the school’s head, Takeru Nakamura. “Their belief that there’s no one around to turn to or whom they can rely on makes the children feel all the more isolated.”

One of the project members, a group named Tokyo Shure, has been providing children with “space to relax,” where they can relieve their stress and enjoy a sense of liberation in three schools in Tokyo and Chiba Prefecture. The spaces opened Monday.

“School shouldn’t be a place requiring children to sacrifice their lives,” said the organization’s director, Kunio Nakamura. “I want children to know there are places other than school where they can learn and make new friends.”

In Suita, Osaka Prefecture, where the summer break for public schools has already finished, local free school Koko got teenagers involved in organizing a food festival.

Over six days last week, students mainly from the city’s junior high and high schools attended the festival to serve meals.

Koko head Motoaki Mishina, who sometimes holds discussion meetings with students who are reluctant to go to school, says he hopes such programs will help youngsters overcome their anxieties.

“I want to let children know there are other people of the same generation who went through a hard time at school, and that there are adults willing and ready to lend a hand,” Mishina said. “I hope this knowledge will be reassuring.”

Yasuyuki Shimizu, who heads the Tokyo-based suicide prevention center Lifelink believes the best way to reach children struggling with school pressure is to inform them of alternative options.

“We need to let children know of their possibilities, as there are various forms of support they can receive on a regular basis,” he said.