The health ministry will conduct its first nationwide survey, possibly as early as next month, to look into how the coronavirus pandemic has affected mental health, according to ministry and other sources.
The online survey covering 10,000 people is expected to show whether the government’s requests to avoid unnecessary outings and voluntarily close businesses led to an increase in cases of depression and other forms of mental stress, the sources said.
The results are expected to be utilized by local mental health and welfare centers across the country in responding to cases of emotional distress amid signs of a resurgence in coronavirus infections.
Since the outbreak was first detected in China late last year and spread worldwide, COVID-19 has had a lingering impact on the mental health of people around the world.
The United Nations said in May that 45 percent of the population surveyed in the United States felt distress, and it urged governments and people around the world to do much more to protect the most vulnerable during and after the pandemic.
Among the various questions, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry plans to ask survey respondents to report their mental status and how they dealt with any stress in April and May, when the government declared a nationwide state of emergency, according to the sources.
In those two months, mental health and welfare centers run by local governments saw a surge in mental health consultations related to COVID-19, in particular among those in their 40s and 50s, according to the health ministry.
Some said they were unable to sleep well, felt deep suffering due to anxiety or were under stress as they refrained from going out.
A health ministry team tasked with tracking infection clusters has also received reports of attempted suicides.
Psychiatrist Yasuto Kunii, an associate professor at Tohoku University who was a member of the ministry team, pointed out that the coronavirus pandemic boosted the number of mental patients as it exacerbated the conditions of those with emotional problems who until then had withstood them.
“There has probably been much damage among those who have not sought medical advice,” Kunii said.
In June, the Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology and four other academic communities described the pandemic as a “disaster” in their mental health guidelines and asked for stronger support for those vulnerable to mental health problems, including coronavirus patients, medical workers, the elderly and children.
Hirokazu Tachikawa, a University of Tsukuba professor versed in suicide prevention, hailed the government project, saying Japan has lagged behind other countries in conducting large-scale surveys in the field of psychiatry.
“I hope (the government) will devise questions so that specific countermeasures can be found, rather than merely showing in the survey the percentage of those who have mental problems,” Tachikawa said.
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