Is job hunting a suicide risk?

One in five college students contemplates suicide during the job-hunting process, according to a poll of students conducted in July by the nonprofit group Lifelink.

Among students in four-year universities, graduate schools and vocational colleges, the stress from job hunting has become so extreme in recent years that many students find themselves isolated, anxious and in such weak mental health that they consider suicide.

According to police statistics, job hunting was listed as the reason for suicide in 149 cases last year, more than the double the number in 2007.

However, that number understates the reality. Even though the total number of suicides in Japan has decreased in recent years, the number of people in their early 20s who commit suicide has continued to rise. The pressure on students to secure full-time employment within a short time is much too high.

Part of the problem stems from a disconnection between the desire to find a job and the distrust students hold of Japanese businesses and society in general. The overall decline in job opportunities for graduates has made competition worse than ever before.

The Lifelink poll found that 69 percent of students felt Japan is a society where honesty and hard work are not rewarded. At the same time, though, 87 percent said they still want to become full-time employees after graduation.

Part of their distrust stems from the way many companies still appear biased toward high-ranking universities, despite claims to the contrary.

In short, students feel desperate and powerless.

They also feel isolated. Though students talk together with other job-hunting friends and remain highly connected on the Internet, most suffer when their search does not go smoothly.

The fear that they will be left behind increases students’ anxiety and 80 percent of students report that their anxiety doesn’t ease even after they’ve found work. No employee should have to start their working life in such a state of mind.

Companies should make changes to their system. Creating high anxiety in job seekers is not going to help companies find the most appropriate employees. In fact, just the opposite will be case. A job-hunting process infused with anxiety and distrust will make mismatches between employee and employer even more common.

Companies also need to start the hiring process later so that students are not put in a double bind between the rigors of studying and the pressures of job hunting.

Companies have long held total sway over the scheduling and procedures of the job-hunting system. However, the government should compel them to make improvements.

Universities, too, should protest the process that pulls students away from campus well before they’ve even come close to completing their studies.

Parents need to reconsider the wisdom of pushing their children too hard, while society at large can help to present alternatives and better accept students who take a different life path.

When one in five work-seeking students contemplate suicide, the job-hunting system cannot be said to be working.

  • David Varnes

    I’m sorry, but this editorial totally misses the point. Companies need to make it easier? Parents push their children too hard? If anything, the opposite needs to happen, earlier.

    People react to unexpected stress or threat via three options. The first two, “fight or flight,” are well known and can be easily applied here. Some students rise to the occasion (fight) and achieve what they want (whether it be a job with a certain company or industry, or even forging their own path). Others engage in “flight” of various types, often including taking just “any job” that they are certain they can get regardless of desire to work with that company, being a “perma-student” of various degrees, retreating into “hikikomori-ism” or other things.

    The third option could be seen as the most extreme version of “flight,” that being giving up or retreating. Suicide is definitely the most extreme version of retreat/surrender.

    The error lies in schools and parents in allowing, if not even encouraging “retreat” of various types as not only a viable option, but sometimes even the preferable one. Hey, if something is scary, just be “hatsukashi” and retreat behind mom’s leg. A class in elementary school is difficult? Well, shoganai, retreat, put forth just a token zombie-like lack of effort, and no problem at all. Students don’t want to pay attention and “fight” on their own to learn their subjects? Retreat to the pocketbooks of the parent, who will fork over ridiculous amounts of money to a juku that will force feed the student to the point that a brain dead sponge could regurgitate the answers to a test. Even then, if the student fails the entrance exam, parents will just grease the proper wheels with the proper private school to get the student in, all with no pain or repercussions to the student.

    Job hunting, leaving university, is perhaps the first time that many students have been forced to “stand on their own two feet” as it were. Of course after 20 years of being coddled, having every blow softened, having every consequence reduced to nothing more than a verbal scolding to be paid with some crocodile tears, the student is going to react with panic, and panic leads to extreme behavior. Since retreat/surrender is the ingrained behavior taught to them over the past 20-so years of their lives, extreme retreat/surrender becomes more palatable. Suicide becomes a pondered option.

    Until parents and schools remove the coddling, so to speak, and stop teaching that surrender/retreat is a viable option, students will continue to react violently to difficult situations. It is like asking someone kept in leg braces their entire lives to suddenly have them removed and make them run a race against an Olympic field a week later. They are just being set up for failure.

  • Ron NJ

    I’d contemplate suicide too if I was expected to go from university into a 60+ hour a week, ultra-low-paying (and quite likely temporary contract) job where you’d wind up doing all the gruntwork regardless of your qualifications, skills, or knowledge but rather just because you happened to be the last one to join. What about that sentence sounds appealing in the slightest, especially when you’ve always got the (pretty well socially accepted at this point) option of just moving back home and hiding in your room?