Foster cohesive society to help people anxious from loneliness, isolation

It is important to promote the creation of a society in which people are there for those who face anxiety on their own and give them a helping hand.

Last year, about 21,000 people committed suicide, the first increase in 11 years. The increase in the number of women is noticeable. Some experts say that as the coronavirus crisis has hit industries that have many female workers, such as the eating and drinking establishments, anxiety at work and at home has become serious.

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has dealt another blow to a situation in which social ties built on community-based and blood relations have been weakened. It seems that the number of people who cannot receive help from those around them is increasing.

Many elderly people tend to refrain from going out and stay home for fear of being infected. Some young people say they have fewer opportunities to talk to others as online classes are introduced in universities.

It has been pointed out that unwanted loneliness not only affects the mind and body, but also increases medical expenses and lowers productivity. Loneliness and isolation are an issue for society as a whole.

Britain set up a minister for loneliness to tackle the issue in 2018. Cross-ministerial organizations work together with the private sector and create various venues such as cafes and cultural hubs for those who suffer from the issue. It is reported that for those who feel lonely, their family doctors introduce local activities.

In light of this situation, the Japanese government has strengthened measures for the issue of isolation and loneliness. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga appointed Tetsushi Sakamoto, minister for promoting dynamic engagement of all citizens, to be the Cabinet member who will address the issue.

The government plans to set up a liaison council of related ministries and agencies to deal with the issue and compile concrete measures for that purpose by May. It is important to analyze the current problem that assistance has not been extended to those who suffer from isolation and loneliness, and eliminate a vertically divided administrative system among ministries to tackle the issue in a multilayered manner.

The immediate task is how to deal with poverty, which leads to loneliness and isolation. In addition to the pressing problem of a lack of stable jobs and housing, in the background there are various other factors, such as illness, disability, nursing care for parents and education for children.

It is also important to swiftly establish a consultation system by local governments, nonprofit organizations and other entities. Using social media and other means to make it easier for people to seek consultations on holidays or late at night will surely be effective. Efforts should be made to strengthen the training system to cultivate human resources so that they can acquire specialized knowledge and know-how.

Teaching in schools how to seek help from one’s surroundings is among the important measures for creating an environment in which it is easy to speak up.

There are people who suffer from loneliness even though they have a family and are not in financial need. It is desirable to promote exchanges through volunteer, sports and cultural activities.

Continuing appropriate measures based on the actual circumstances of persons concerned is needed, instead of merely ending up taking transient measures.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 10, 2021.