Regarding the Sept. 20 article “Now suicide has become a political issue, how will Japan address it?“: It is refreshing to see an article on suicide in Japan focus on the fact that it takes political will for any nation to bring about any significant lowering of its suicide rate.
As a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist who has worked in Japan for more than 20 years, I would first like to suggest that Western media in Japan try harder to get away from the tendency to “orientalize” the serious and preventable problem of increased suicide rates by reverting to stereotypical ideas about Japanese people.
Until 1997 Japan had between 22,000 and 24,000 suicides annually. Following the stock market decline (after 1990) and long-term economic downturn, the suicide rate increased by around 35 percent in 1998. Since then, the number of people killing themselves each year has consistently remained well over 30,000.
Unless the new administration initiates very proactive and well-funded local and nationwide suicide prevention programs and other mental health care initiatives, including tackling the widespread problem of clinical depression suffered by so many of the general population, it is very difficult to foresee the previous government’s stated goal of reducing the suicide rate to around 23,000 by 2016 as achievable.
During the past 10 years, English-language media seem in the main to have done little more than have someone do stories on the “suicide forest,” or on Internet suicide clubs and copycat suicides, without focusing on the bigger picture. As any journalist would learn if he or she knew enough Japanese or asked a bilingual researcher to get to the heart of the tragic story, economic hardship, bankruptcies and unemployment have been the main cause of suicide during this time.
A useful contact for Japanese residents who speak Japanese and are feeling depressed or suicidal is the Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service). Call 0120-738-556 outside the Tokyo area, and 3264-4343 in Tokyo.
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