Japan's uphill struggle to curb high suicide rates

Japan's uphill struggle to curb high suicide rates
PHOTO: ST

KUALA LUMPUR: In a culture where suicide is considered honourable, it is no surprise that Japan has faced an uphill battle to reduce its high suicide rates.

Last year the Land of the Rising Sun saw a suicide rate of 21.7 per 100,000, which might seem very high but the numbers have been declining over the past few years.

United Nations University International Institute for Global Health (UNU IIGH) research fellow Dr Atsuro Tsutsumi said 1998 was the turning point for Japan's social acceptance of suicide.

He said the economic downturn led to banks and companies going bankrupt and forced most of the working class into unemployment.

Dr Tsutsumi, an expert on suicide, said since 2012, Japan had more than 30,000 suicide cases a year.

"What separated us from most other countries battling suicide rates was that the demographic most at risk was the middle-aged group (30 to 49 years old), which is the age of production.

"They normally commit suicide because of economic factors but now that the economy has vastly improved, the number of cases has also dropped dramatically," he said.

The Japanese government has since invested a lot in suicide prevention movements.

However, Dr Tsutsumi said Japan faces a new challenge of reducing the number of young adults committing suicide.

"This age group is not affected by problems that lean more towards society and family," he said.

Reaching out to young adults is proving to be an uphill task for Japanese authorities, partly due to its culture, where there are outpourings of sympathy for those who attempt or commit suicide.

"Another problem is that schools are considered very sacred institutions in Japan and police will not go in to investigate thoroughly when a suicide act is committed there," said Dr Tsutsumi.

Like many other suicide experts, Dr Tsutsumi said he firmly believes that suicidal tendencies could be treated and those who attempt suicide should not be punished.

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