• Jiji, Kyodo

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The number of working women in Japan who killed themselves rose sharply last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, government data showed Tuesday.

A government white paper said that 1,698 working women killed themselves in 2020, compared with an annual average of 1,323 between 2015 and 2019.

The increase “signaled the impact of the pandemic,” the health ministry said. “It’s possible that the rise reflected changes in the working environment among nonregular workers, many of whom are women” it said.

Along with the National Police Agency, the health ministry said it will start checking from next year whether a person who died by suicide was a regular employee or nonregular employee as a way to analyze reasons behind suicides among working people.

The total number of people in Japan who killed themselves in 2020 rose by 912 from the previous year to 21,081.

The number of men who killed themselves fell to 14,055, marking the 11th consecutive year of decline. Among women, the number rose by nearly 1,000 from the previous year to 7,026.

The suicide rate, which represents the number of suicides per 100,000 population, grew 0.8 point to 16.8, marking the first increase in 11 years.

Of female suicides, those involving employed people and students increased while those among housewives and self-employed people fell.

The number of women who killed themselves for reasons related to work rose 34.8%. Of them, cases involving changes in the working environment soared 98.3%, an indication that many women lost or changed their jobs.

The white paper said that the number of nonworking women who killed themselves was down by 28 from the average of the past five years. Among men, the number fell for both those with and without a job.

Among women, the number of suicides increased for those age 19 and under, those between 20 and 39 and those between 40 and 59. For men, the number increased among those age 19 and under.

The country recorded 1,038 suicides among students in 2020. Of them, cases involving elementary to senior high school students hit a record high of 499.

Compared with the five-year average, the number of suicides among students fell sharply in March when a blanket school closure was imposed as COVID-19 cases expanded. But the number of suicides among students surged in June after schools reopened, and again in September after a summer break.

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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