• Kyodo

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The number of suicides among schoolchildren in Japan totaled 499 in 2020, up 100 from a year earlier and marking the highest level on record, according to finalized government statistics.

Health ministry officials attributed the increase to worries among young people about their studies and career paths, as well as family discord as they spent more time at home due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2020 tally was the highest since comparable data became available in 1980, according to the National Police Agency.

Of the total, 14 were in elementary school, up six, 146 were in junior high school, a rise of 34, and 339 were in high school, up 60.

Suicides by high school girls surged to 140 from 80 the previous year.

By month, the tally for all schoolchildren more than doubled in June and stayed notably higher for the rest of the year as the country faced second and third waves of coronavirus infections.

The number of suicides were almost unchanged between January and May, a period covering much of the first wave of the pandemic in the country and the first COVID-19 state of emergency.

Childline Support Center Japan, a Tokyo-based organization running a network of helplines for young people up to 18 years old, said parents and teachers must increase efforts to look after children who have grown vulnerable as home environments become more stressful during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The virus has taken away opportunities for them to engage with other students they feel comfortable with in school and at after-school activities, leaving them tormented for much of the day,” said Junko Kobayashi, representative director of the organization.

“We would like parents, teachers and other adults to step up efforts to look after children who are worried and stressed,” Kobayashi said.

The number of suicides among minors totaled 777, up 118, the NPA said, citing reasons such as depression and other mental illnesses, and distress about the future or slumping academic performance.

The number of suicides nationwide was also up 912 to 21,081 in the reporting year, marking the first rise since 2009 in the midst of the global financial crisis, according to the NPA.

Suicides by women increased 395 to 7,026, while suicides by men dropped 23 to 14,055 for the 11th straight year of decline.

Police data cited health issues, family problems and economic hardships as motives behind the surge in suicides by women.

The total figures moved up in the July-December period, with October hitting the highest level at 2,230.

Some experts suspect that suicides by celebrities such as actor Haruma Miura in July and actress Yuko Takeuchi in September, might have propelled the increase.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 119 in Japan for immediate assistance. The TELL Lifeline is available for those who need free and anonymous counseling at 03-5774-0992. You can also visit telljp.com. For those in other countries, visit www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html for a detailed list of resources and assistance.

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