In the June 18 article “The safety nets for would-be suicides,” Yasuyuki Shimizu, director of the suicide-prevention organization Lifelink, is quoted as saying that most people have regarded suicide as a personal problem, not society’s. In her June 25 letter, “Enjoying what surrounds us,” Japan Times reader Carolina Blanco says she feels that Japanese society lacks love for and interest in others.
These are bold statements that accurately highlight a problem common to many developed countries but that many people avoid discussing: general disinterest in the plight of the less fortunate members of our society. As Shimizu points out, too many people think that it’s someone else’s problem or are reluctant to do anything. In addressing social issues, Japan seems light years behind Western countries. Healing social ills has always been considered an exclusively family function here. This explains why the government seems so passive in implementing effective social support programs.
Unfortunately, as in many Western countries years ago, the “family unit” has eroded in Japan to the point where many families are no longer able to take care of themselves; hence the high number of suicides. That 30,000 people have been committing suicide annually in Japan for the last 10 years says tons about the quality of life in this country.
Every age group shares the problem. Japanese children kill themselves over bullying-induced despair and failure in the dreaded high school and university entrance exams. Working-age adults take their own lives over the inability to find jobs or jobs that pay enough to enable them to build happy family lives. Other reasons include feelings of rejection, isolation and fear of the future. Elderly people commit suicide over insufficient retirement pensions and loneliness.
How can suicide be considered anything other than a problem of society? I applaud people like Shimizu and their efforts in addressing the suicide problem in Japan.
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