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More people died from suicide in Japan in a month than from COVID-19 in all of 2020

More people died from suicide in Japan in October than from COVID-19 in all of 2020. The pandemic has had the most impact on women. Why is this happening, the publication said CNN.

Photo: Shutterstock

Four attempts

Eriko Kobayashi tried to commit suicide four times.

The first time she was only 22 years old, she worked for a full-time publishing house, she did not have enough money to cover rent and grocery bills in Tokyo. “I was really poor,” said Kobayashi, who spent three days unconscious in the hospital after the first incident.

Now 43-year-old Kobayashi has written books about her struggles with mental health and has a full-time job at an NGO. But the coronavirus brought her back to her previous stressful state.

“My salary has been reduced and I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. "I constantly feel a crisis that could put me back in poverty again."

Experts warned that the pandemic could lead to a mental health crisis. Mass unemployment, social exclusion and anxiety affect people around the world.

On the subject: One in five COVID-19 patients develop mental illness: study

In Japan, government statistics show that in October alone, suicide claimed more lives than COVID-19 in an entire year. The monthly suicide rate in Japan rose to 2153 in October, according to the National Police Department of Japan. And the total number of COVID-19 cases in Japan was 2087.

Japan is one of the few major economies to release suicide data on time - the most recent national data for the United States, for example, is from 2018. The Japanese data can provide other countries with insight into the mental health impact of pandemic measures and which groups are most vulnerable.

“We didn't even have a quarantine, and the impact of COVID-19 is very minimal compared to other countries ... but we are still seeing such a large increase in the number of suicides,” said Michiko Ueda, assistant professor at Waseda University in Tokyo and a suicide specialist. "This suggests that other countries may see a similar or even greater increase in suicide rates in the future."

Implications of COVID-19 for women

Japan has long been struggling with one of the highest suicide rates in the world, according to the World Health Organization. In 2016, Japan's suicide death rate was 18,5 per 100, second only to South Korea and almost double the global average of 000 per 10,6.

Although the reasons for Japan's high suicide rates are complex, long work hours, school pressures, social isolation and cultural stigma about mental health problems have been cited as contributing factors.

But in the 10 years to 2019, Japan's suicide rate has declined to 20 last year, according to the health ministry, the lowest since the country's health authorities began counting in 1978.

The pandemic appears to have reversed this trend, and the rise in suicide has disproportionately affected women. Although they represent a smaller proportion of the total number of suicides than men, the number of women who have committed suicide is increasing. In October, the number of suicides among women in Japan increased by almost 83% over the same month the previous year. For comparison, over the same period, the number of suicides among men increased by almost 22%.

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There are several possible reasons for this. Women make up a larger percentage of part-time workers in hotels, catering and retail, where layoffs have been significant. Kobayashi said many of her friends have been fired. “Japan ignores women,” she said. "This is a society in which the weakest people are cut off first when something bad happens."

In a global study of more than 10 people by the nonprofit international relief organization CARE, 000% of women reported an increase in mental health problems during a pandemic, compared with 27% of men.

Income worries are exacerbated by the fact that women face a rapidly increasing burden of unpaid care, according to the study. For those who keep their jobs when children are sent home from school or kindergarten, mothers often take on these responsibilities as well as their normal work responsibilities.

Increased concerns about the health and well-being of children have also added an additional burden to mothers during the pandemic.

Akari, 35, who did not want to give her real name, said she sought professional help this year when her son was hospitalized for six weeks. “I was very worried,” Akari said. "I had no mental illness before, but I felt very, very anxious all the time."

As the pandemic intensified, her stress worsened and she worried that her son would contract COVID-19.

“I felt that there was no hope, it seemed to me that I was always thinking of the worst scenario,” she lamented.

"A place for you"

In March, Koki Ozora, a 21-year-old university student, launched a 200-hour mental health hotline called Anata no Ibasho (“A Place for You”). He said the hotline, a nonprofit funded by private donations, receives on average more than XNUMX calls a day, and the vast majority of callers are women.

“They have lost their jobs, they need to raise children, but they have no money,” Ozora said. "Many have tried to commit suicide."

On the subject: They are dying not only from COVID-19: deaths from other diseases increased during the pandemic

Most of the calls take place at night - from 22:00 to 04:00. About 600 volunteers of the non-profit organization live in different time zones around the world and are ready to answer them. But Ozora says there aren't enough volunteers to handle the volume of messages.

They prioritize the most important texts, looking for keywords such as suicide or sexual assault. He said they respond to 60% of messages within five minutes, and volunteers spend an average of 40 minutes with each person.

Anonymously, through online messages, people share their deepest concerns. Unlike most mental health hotlines in Japan, which take telephone inquiries, Ozora says many people, especially the younger generation, find it more convenient to seek help through text messages.

In April, he said that the most frequent messages were from mothers who were stressed about raising their children, and some confessed to thoughts of killing their own children. These days, he said, women often talk about job loss and financial hardship, as well as domestic violence.

“We received messages like 'I was raped by my father' or 'My husband tried to kill me,' Ozora said. “Women send messages like this almost every day. And their number is growing. " He added that the surge in messages is related to the pandemic. There used to be more places to “escape” to, such as schools, offices or friends' homes.

Pressure on children

Japan is the only G-7 country where suicide is the leading cause of death for young people aged 15 to 39. According to the Ministry of Health, the number of suicides among people under the age of 20 was on the increase even before the pandemic.

As the pandemic's restrictions take children out of school and society, Ozora said, they face abuse, stressful family life, and pressure from not doing homework. According to him, some children aged five years contacted the hotline.

On the subject: UNICEF calls children living during COVID-19 'lost generation'

School closures during the pandemic in the spring have led to a pile of homework. According to Naho Morisaki of the National Center for Child Health and Development, they have less freedom to see friends, which also contributes to stress. The center recently conducted an online survey of more than 8700 parents and children and found that 75% of Japanese schoolchildren show signs of stress due to the pandemic.

Morisaki says there is a large correlation between the anxiety of children and their parents. "Children who self-harm get stressed and then they can't talk to their family because they probably see that their mom or dad can't listen to them."

Problem solving stigma

There is still a stigma in Japan against recognizing loneliness and struggle. Ozora said that women and parents usually start a conversation during services by saying, “I know it’s bad to ask for help, but can I talk?”

Ueda says that the "shame" of talking about depression often holds people back.

“It's not something that you talk about publicly, you don't talk about it with your friends or anyone else,” she said. "This can lead to a delay in seeking help, so this is one of the potential cultural factors that we have here."

Akari agrees with this. She used to live in the United States, where she says it's easier to ask for help. “When I lived in the United States, I knew people who had undergone therapy, and it was common, but in Japan it is very difficult,” she said.

After the financial crisis of the 1990s, Japan's suicide rate rose to an all-time high in 2003, when about 34 people committed suicide. Experts say the shame and anxiety of layoffs, mostly by men at the time, contributed to depression and increased suicide rates. In the early 000s, the Japanese government stepped up investment and efforts to prevent suicide and support survivors, including passing the Basic Suicide Prevention Act in 2000 to support those affected by the problem.

But both Ozora and Kobayashi say that was not enough: lowering the suicide rate requires changes in Japanese society.

“Others are ashamed to know your weakness, so you hide everything, keep it in yourself and endure,” said Kobayashi. "We need to create a culture in which to show our weakness and unhappiness."

Celebrity suicides

Several Japanese celebrities have committed suicide in recent months. While the Japanese media rarely detail the specifics of such deaths - without deliberately dwelling on methods or motives - the mere reporting of these cases often causes an increase in suicide among the general public, according to experts such as Ueda.

On the subject: The pandemic has affected people's psychological health: the effects of isolation

Hana Kimura, a 22-year-old professional wrestler and reality TV star Terrace House, committed suicide in the summer after she was bombarded with hate messages by social media users. Hana's mother, Kyoko Kimura, said she was aware that media reports of her daughter's death could have influenced other people who were already thinking about suicide.

“When Hana died, I repeatedly asked the police not to disclose any specific situation with her death, but I still see reports of information that only the police knew,” Kimura said. "It's a chain reaction."

Kimura said the pandemic caused her daughter to spend more time reading toxic social media posts as she was unable to exercise due to coronavirus-related restrictions. Kimura is now creating an organization called Remember Hana to raise awareness of cyberbullying.

“She found a reason to live fighting like a professional wrestler. This was a big part of her. She found herself in a really difficult situation as she couldn't fight, ”Kimura said. "The pandemic has made society even more stifling."

Third wave

Japan has reported record daily cases of COVID-19 in recent weeks as doctors warn of a third wave that could intensify in the winter months. Experts fear the high suicide rate will worsen as the economic fallout continues.

“We haven't even experienced the full economic impact of the pandemic,” Ueda said. "The pandemic itself could get worse, and if it does, the consequences could be enormous."

Compared to some other countries, restrictions in Japan have been relatively relaxed. The country has declared a state of emergency, but, for example, lockdown has never been imposed, and quarantine restrictions on foreign arrivals have not been as strict as in China.

On the subject: CDC statistics: from what people infected with coronavirus actually die

But as the number of cases grows, some stricter restrictions will be required - experts are concerned about how this might affect mental health.

“We didn't even have a quarantine, and the impact of COVID-19 is very minimal compared to other countries ... but still we are seeing such a large increase in the number of suicides,” Ueda said. "This suggests that other countries may see similar or even greater increases in suicide rates in the future."

Despite having to deal with cut wages and constant financial insecurity, Kobayashi says she is now much better at handling her anxiety. She hopes that by talking publicly about their fears, more people will do the same and realize that they are not alone before it's too late.

“I go out in public and say that I was mentally ill and suffered from depression in the hope that others could be encouraged to speak up,” Kobayashi said. - I am now 43 years old, and life is becoming more fun. So it's good that I'm still alive. "

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