Work to Help Those at Risk of Suicide as Pandemic Disrupts People’s Lives

The prolonged coronavirus pandemic has had a serious impact on the lives of women and children, becoming what seems to be a major factor for suicides to increase.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the number of suicide deaths was 20,919 last year, up by 750 from the previous year. Since 2009, after the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers, this is the first time in 11 years that the figure increased. As it is a preliminary figure, there is a possibility that it could increase further.

The number of suicides by men declined compared with that of the previous year, while the number of suicides by women increased by 14.5%. The increase is particularly sharp in the number of working women who committed suicide. The recent declaration of a state of emergency has dealt another blow to eating and drinking establishments and the lodging industry, both of which employ many women. Last year, the monthly average number of women in non-regular jobs fell by about 500,000.

With the spread of teleworking, the burden of child-rearing and nursing care for the aged has increased. It is reported that the number of domestic violence complaints last year grew by 50% from the previous year. The public and private sectors must work together to support families in need and single-parent households and prevent the situation from worsening.

It cannot be overlooked that suicides believed to stem from a sense of isolation have increased. There are many elderly people who shut themselves up at home to avoid infection and become isolated. It is necessary to step up efforts to watch over these aged people in the community.

The number of elementary, junior high, high school and university students who killed themselves from January to November last year was 916, up by 84 on a year-on-year basis. Elementary, junior high and high school students who took their own lives reached a record high of 440.

The ministry said that there were many children who committed suicide due to discord with parents, worries about their future career paths and poor academic performance. It seems an increasing number of children cannot adapt to school life and keep up with their classes after prolonged school closures, or find themselves unable to fit in either at home or at school.

Efforts should be made to teach children how to ask the adults around them for help when they feel stressed or struggling. It is urgent to improve and expand counseling services that make use of social media so that young people can easily find someone to talk to.

According to a survey by a nonprofit organization that works to prevent suicide, those who committed suicide had an average of four worries. There were many cases in which they chose to kill themselves as a result of various issues, such as debts, interpersonal relationships and illness, all of which compounded in a chain reaction and mentally drove them into a corner.

The survey also found that 70% of suicide victims had visited medical institutions or counseling centers at least once. It is vital to identify those at high risk of suicide based on such consultations and offer them comprehensive support.

The types of support needed vary by generation, gender and region. The central and local governments must make efforts to investigate in detail the circumstances behind suicides and grasp the actual situation.

Some areas hold one-stop consultation sessions in which various consultation tasks are integrated, with the participation of lawyers and psychiatrists as well as officials of local government and Hello Work job placement offices. Active support should be provided to those in a predicament without waiting for them to ask for help.

It is essential for everyone to pay attention to those around them at households, workplaces and schools and to save more lives.