Dealing with Japan’s High Suicide Rate
By Yumi Nakata
Suicide has become an alarming issue in Japan. If you are from Japan, you probably know at least one or two people who took their own lives. It is very sad. For me, I know at least two people who committed suicide. One of them was a girl attending my high school and she killed herself by hanging because she was bullied by her friends in school. The news shocked the school principal, teachers and her schoolmates. Although I didn’t know her personally, it was very sad.
The second person who committed suicide was a friend of my mother. He wasn’t our close friend but we knew him and invited him over dinner occasionally. We didn’t hear from him for about six months at that point, so my mother was a bit concerned and called his family only to find out that he had committed suicide. We still don’t know what exactly caused his suicide. The most sad issue here is that this happens everyday in Japan and many are underreported so the actual number of people who committed suicides may be higher.
One of the most common ways to commit suicide is to jump in front of a train. It is not uncommon to be riding the train and have it suddenly come to a stop with the announcement that there has been a “personal injury” on the tracks.
One of the most infamous suicide areas is Aokigahara, also known as the Suicide Forest which is located at the northwest base of Mt. Fuji. With its thick dense forest and remote location, Aokigahara is one of the most popular places for suicides with the government reporting that over 100 suicides a year are reported there.Photo by keio
The local government has tried to stop the suicides by placing signs at the entry of the forest, in Japanese and English, urging suicidal visitors to seek help and not kill themselves. There is also a telephone box with a free suicide hotline to call and talk to a counsellor. Despite the efforts, people who go into the forest never return.
It is reported that there are over 30,000 suicides every year in Japan with middle aged Japanese men are more likely to be at risk. This is a very sad reality created by modern Japan and there are a couple of issues that need to be fixed in order to reduce the number of suicidal people.
Historically, suicide was considered a virtue. Samurai used to kill himself to regain their honor. Even in modern Japan, some people rather end their lives than living with shame for whatever reasons that they have.
Japan can be a very stressful society to live in as the employment system is very rigid and it is not easy for those who have been laid off to find another job. It is not impossible but it is very challenging due to the rigid employment system created by Japanese government.
I looked for a therapist after I had gone back to Japan temporarily but it was hard for me to find a qualified therapist in Japan. Mental Health help is significantly behind in Japan compared to the U.S. There is also the Japanese culture of shame that prevents many people from seeking out a mental health professional.
Depressed people are often ashamed of themselves but they feel like suicide is the only option they have because they do not want to be stigmatized by their family, friends and ultimately by public. And sufferers themselves don’t have sufficient knowledge about mental health issues due to the poor education on this important field.
A combination of these factors contribute to the high rates of suicides among Japanese people. The Japanese government needs to do more work to ensure the availability of mental health professionals and also work on reducing the stigma around mental health.
This issue is very complex and will not be fixed overnight. With the help of community and the Japanese government, I believe that it will become easier for sufferers to seek help without feeling ashamed. Death is not the answer, no matter what the issue is.