Japan aims to reduce ‘critical’ suicide rate by 30% over 10 years

Kyodo

The government on Tuesday approved a plan seeking a 30 percent reduction in the number of suicides over the next decade, calling the nation’s suicide rate “critical.”

The national guideline, reviewed for the first time in five years, aims to cut the number of suicides per 100,000 people from 18.5 in 2015 to 13 by 2025 — a level similar to the United States and Germany.

The new goal is equivalent to cutting the number of suicides to 16,000 or less by 2025. After peaking at 34,427 in 2003, the number of suicides in the country has been on a downward trend, falling for the seventh straight year to 21,897 in 2016.

Still, the rate remains high globally. At 19.5 suicides per 100,000 people in 2014, Japan ranked sixth in the world, behind Lithuania at 30.8, South Korea at 28.5 and Suriname at 24.2, according to the health ministry, which has compiled data since 2013.

The guideline calls for addressing issues such as excessive working hours, postpartum depression and prejudice against sexual minorities, by defining measures against suicide as the eradication of obstacles to living.

“We want to achieve the target as soon as possible by analyzing the causes of suicide,” Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki said at a news conference.

The new goal is more ambitious than the target set out in the original guideline, published in 2007, of reducing the rate by 20 percent over a decade.

“It’s a pretty high bar” to reach, a senior ministry official acknowledged.

Prompted by public attention on the issue following the 2015 suicide of a 24-year-old employee of the advertising giant Dentsu Inc. due to overwork, the government is looking to bolster measures against excessive working hours. It will also focus on ensuring workers’ mental health and preventing power harassment.

On postpartum depression, the government has pledged to assess the mental state and living conditions of mothers after childbirth via health checkups.

Noting that a lack of understanding could cause harassment of sexual minorities, the government decided to set up a round-the-clock toll-free hotline while working to foster better understanding of the issue at schools and workplaces.

To address the high rate of youth suicide, the government will promote educational efforts to inform students about how they can seek help at school.

Following the enforcement of the revised law on suicide countermeasures last year, the guideline also stipulates the central government’s role in assisting municipal authorities to prevent suicide.

Although the government has been stepping up efforts, challenges remain. These include poor public awareness of support networks available to people at risk. A 2016 survey by the health ministry showed that only 6.9 percent of respondents knew about telephone mental health consultation services, and just 5 percent were aware of the government-designated suicide-prevention week in September.

The survey also showed that 23.6 percent of adult respondents had seriously considered suicide.

“Parents’ lives turn 180 degrees after losing a child,” said a woman who lost her 26-year-old son seven years ago as a result of overwork.

Labor authorities later recognized that the man’s death was caused by depression, which he developed after working more than 100 extra hours a month before going missing and later killing himself at a Tokyo hotel.

“We do not want any more people to experience the agony we have gone through,” the man’s father said.