The National Police Agency has announced that 32,249 people killed themselves in 2008, making it the 11th consecutive year that the annual suicide rate has topped 30,000. The NPA added that 2,645 people killed themselves in January and 2,470 in February this year. The January figure is 340 more than the the health and welfare ministry’s figure for the same month of 2007. Given present economic difficulties, 2009 is also likely to see more than 30,000 people take their own lives.

The central government adopted a policy outline in 2007 containing measures aimed at reducing the suicide rate by 20 percent by 2016 from the 2005 level. But at this point no tangible effects have been produced. The central and local governments clearly must increase their suicide-prevention efforts.

Although data are not yet available, the number of suicides may have jumped for March, the end of the business year for many companies, given the severity of the recession gripping the nation. Mr. Hisao Sato, head of a nonprofit organization that helps suicidal people in Akita Prefecture — which long had the nation’s highest suicide rate — says that his group is helping three times more people this year than usual. Mr. Sato warns that there is a lag between the time when people lose jobs and the time when their lives become really difficult. Both the central and local governments should heed his words and move quickly to take appropriate measures.

The public sector should receive help from nongovernmental organizations that have expert knowledge. It needs to have sufficient financial resources to train counselors and promote mental health. Finally, it must develop the ability to flexibly cope with various problems faced by suicidal people, including their economic problems, health problems (including depression) and relationships with others.

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