The muted celebrations at the passing New Year have slipped from mind more quickly than in most years. The less-than-festive mood around the world was yet more evidence of how deeply and strongly the economic downturn has disrupted everyone’s lives. Joblessness, homelessness and general discomfort are increasing day by day, and will only worsen over the next year.

Throughout Japan, belt-tightening is under way. Corporations have already shed long-cherished sports clubs and sponsorship of events such as Formula 1 racing. Few people will cry over companies downsizing advertising budgets, but when traditionally profitable companies scale back so publicly, more of the “extras” of the past years must appear ready for the chopping block.

Personal budgets, even high-end ones, have also been inhibited. Shopping revenues during the holiday season went down and fashionable young women can no longer afford to purchase expensive brand-name bags and dresses. Instead, they rent them. The emerging attitude seems a curious mix of lingering materialist desires and current pragmatic necessity. It will take time for the consumer mentality to readjust itself more fully.

The economic downturn has extended into the very psyche of Japan. A national health report by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry at the end of last year found that one in five Japanese adults depends on alcohol or drugs to fall asleep. Stressful lifestyles are the root cause, with 58 percent of men and 64 percent of women describing themselves as under stress.

The national suicide hotline registered 700,000 calls last year, with suicide rates 50 percent higher here than the world average, according to the World Health Organization. As the economic crisis deepens, these psychological problems will likely worsen.

Recessions like the current one must be addressed by a two-pronged approach — practical and psychological. So far the government has offered hints of help, but far from enough. Stronger safety nets for income, food and the basics of a secure life are first steps on the road to recovery, but positive leadership and collective determination are the true sociopolitical energy to keep it going. Without a hint of optimism from those in power, though, the national mood will continue slipping along with the economy.

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