In Japan, more people died from suicide last month than from Covid in all of 2020

November 29, 2020 Off By administrator

Now 43, Kobayashi has written books on her mental health struggles and has a steady job at an NGO. But the coronavirus is bringing back the stress she used to feel.

“My salary was cut, and I cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “I constantly feel a sense of crisis that I might fall back into poverty.”

Experts have warned that the pandemic could lead to a mental health crisis. Mass unemployment, social isolation, and anxiety are taking their toll on people globally.

In Japan, government statistics show suicide claimed more lives in October than Covid-19 has over the entire year to date. The monthly number of Japanese suicides rose to 2,153 in October, according to Japan’s National Police Agency. As of Friday, Japan’s total Covid-19 toll was 2,087, the health ministry said.
Japan is one of the few major economies to disclose timely suicide data — the most recent national data for the US, for example, is from 2018. The Japanese data could give other countries insights into the impact of pandemic measures on mental health, and which groups are the most vulnerable.

“We didn’t even have a lockdown, and the impact of Covid is very minimal compared to other countries … but still we see this big increase in the number of suicides,” said Michiko Ueda, an associate professor at Waseda University in Tokyo, and an expert on suicides.

“That suggests other countries might see a similar or even bigger increase in the number of suicides in the future.”

Eriko Kobayashi has struggled with her mental health in the past. She says the pandemic has brought back intense fears of falling into poverty.

Covid’s toll on women

Japan has long struggled with one of the highest suicide rates in the world, according to the World Health Organization. In 2016, Japan had a suicide mortality rate of 18.5 per 100,000 people, second only to South Korea in the Western Pacific region and almost triple the annual global average of 10.6 per 100,000 people.

While the reasons for Japan’s high suicide rate are complex, long working hours, school pressure, social isolation and a cultural stigma around mental health issues have all been cited as contributing factors.

But for the 10 years leading up to 2019, the number of suicides had been decreasing in Japan, falling to about 20,000 last year, according to the health ministry — the lowest number since the country’s health authorities started keeping records in 1978.

The pandemic appears to have reversed that trend, and the rise in suicides has disproportionately affected women. Although they represent a smaller proportion of total suicides than men, the number of women taking their own lives is increasing. In October, suicides among women in Japan increased almost 83% compared to the same month the previous year. For comparison, male suicides rose almost 22% over the same time period.

There are several potential reasons for this. Women make up a larger percentage of part-time workers in the hotel, food service and retail industries — where layoffs have been deep. Kobayashi said many of her friends have been laid off. “Japan has been ignoring women,” she said….

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