The number of suicides in 2009 has already topped 30,000 for the 12th straight year (since 1998). According to the National Police Agency, the suicide figure through the end of November reached 30,181, or 445 more than for the same period last year. This translates into about 90 suicides a day on average. For the first 10 months, the daily figure was nearly 100.

An encouraging sign from the Hatoyama administration is that it has worked out a 100-day plan to prevent suicides during the yearend holidays. As a first step, the team behind the plan has installed, on a trial basis, consultation sections at various public employment security offices to help people who may be contemplating suicide, including those who are deep in debt or suffering from depression. Arrangements will be made so that such people can get livelihood assistance or find temporary residences. The team also distributes booklets and has launched a Web site to inform people of places where they can get help.

The greater the availability of places giving advice and help to people enduring trying times, the better. Telephone consultation services and advice by public health experts, medical doctors and clerics can play an important role. As the team points out, private sector organizations involved in suicide prevention are suffering from shortages of personnel and funds. The government should promptly take steps to increase support for them.

Among men aged 20 to 44 and women aged 15 to 34, suicide is the No. 1 cause of death. There is little doubt that harsh economic conditions, including high unemployment, are major factors. Harsh social conditions may also be causing some young people to lose all hope for the future.

The 2006 law for suicide prevention assigns the central and local governments with the responsibility of helping people who may be suicidal. It is time for them to implement practical measures that will bring down the nation’s suicide rate, including dispelling the notion that suicide is a culturally acceptable way to solve one’s problems.

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