New figures released by the government revealed that last year alone, 250 youth took their own lives in Japan.
The number of children committing suicide in Japan is at the highest it’s been since 1986. New figures released by the government revealed that last year alone, 250 youth took their own lives—five times higher than the previous 12 months. According to the Welfare Ministry, suicide is the leading cause of death among 15 to 19 year olds, a trend that only started to appear for the first time in 2014.
Suicide across young and old people is a well-known issue in Japan. So much so, that in 2006, the country passed a suicide prevention law, which recognized suicide as a social, rather than a private problem and sought to tackle the growing numbers. The upward trend is worrying to say the least and many academics, teachers, parents, and government departments have been trying to get to the bottom of it to figure out the cause. In 2015, Japan’s Cabinet Office released a report examining the country’s child suicides from 1973 to 2013. The number of children who take their own lives suddenly spikes on September 1—the first day of the academic year.
Three years ago a librarian in Kamakura city, just south of Tokyo, took to Twitter to reach out to any students who were feeling the pressure of the incoming academic year. A series of Tweets included, “The second semester is almost upon us. If you are thinking of killing yourself because you hate school so much, why not come to us? We have comics and light novels,” and “No-one would tell you off if you spend all day here. Remember us as your refuge if you’re thinking of choosing death over school in September.” The thread was then retweeted over 60,000 times.
The surmounting pressure faced by Japan’s school children has been documented in recent years, with intense academic benchmarks and bullying cited as some of the reasons for the uptick in suicides. One factor thought to play a part in the rise is the country’s attitude towards mental health issues. Depression only become widely recognized in the late 1990s. Kenzo Denda, a professor at Hokkaido University, reports that in Japan one in 12 primary school students and one in 4 secondary school students suffer from depression.
The country’s strong group culture, which emphasizes the collective community rather than the individual, is also thought to be another contributing factor. If young people aren’t taught to identify and give provenance to their own emotions, opting to neglect their state of minds over seeking professional help then the rising cases of children taking their own lives will continue.