In January, a couple in Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture, were arrested for allegedly confining their daughter for at least 15 years before she froze to death in December at the age of 33. The couple told police they had kept her in the tiny room where her body was found because she was mentally ill. They insisted they fed their daughter properly, but she weighed only 19 kilograms when her naked body was found in the unheated room.

In an essay posted on the portal site Mag2 News, Tatsuya Hikichi, a journalist who specializes in mental health issues, called media reports of the mental illness “misleading.” All information had come from the police, and none of it elaborated on the nature of her illness and how her condition developed. The only aspect of the woman’s condition reported by the police was that she was “schizophrenic,” and that became the only context the public had with which to form a picture of her. According to Hikichi, media coverage invariably reinforced the negative image most people have of those who suffer from schizophrenia, especially given some accounts that said the woman was also “violent.”

Hikichi stressed that the police only passed on information that would be helpful to the prosecution, but added that the media’s role, especially in such instances, is to verify what the authorities are saying. Hikichi believed the media had neglected its mission in this situation, since they failed to question the reasons for the woman’s confinement. He quotes various newspapers as saying the parents kept her locked up because they “didn’t want the neighbors to know” about her, or even to know she existed, the implication being that readers might sympathize with the parents’ actions. As if to confirm this suggestion, the Feb. 8 issue of the weekly magazine Josei Seven ran an article about a man whose son was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was a teen. Convinced his son’s condition was the result of “genes” or upbringing, he blamed himself, but in any case was unable to control his son’s unpredictable tendencies and fell into a state of despair. He understands how the Neyagawa couple felt.