When young people share concerns, what is the best way to truly help?

There have been a series of incidents in which young people who posted suicidal thoughts on social media were lured out by those who saw their posts, and ended up losing their lives. This horrible pattern must be stopped.

The Kanagawa prefectural police have arrested a 28-year-old man from Saitama on suspicion of having abetted the suicide of a junior high school student from Yokohama. The man reportedly made contact with the girl after he found a social media post by her that could be interpreted as suicidal.

The man reportedly took the student to a bridge near Lake Sagami in Sagamihara soon after contacting her. The student is thought to have jumped off the bridge. She was later found dead.

Even if the student indicated her desire to commit suicide, it is the role of adults to stop such an attempt. Suicide should never be encouraged.

In the case of a university student whose body was found in Sapporo, a 53-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of abandoning her body. He was quoted by police as saying, “I got to know her through social media, and she asked me to kill her.”

The man reportedly introduced himself on social media as someone offering help in committing suicide, and in addition to the university student, he had also met with others who wished to kill themselves.

In each of these cases, social media platforms were used to connect people who wanted to die with those who wanted to help them do so. A challenge is how to break the situation that enables such connections.

In 2017, nine people in their teens to 20s were killed in Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, after they wrote of their desire to die on social media.

In the wake of this incident, the central and local governments set up a new system to provide consultation services to people with problems and concerns. However, suicide among young people has been on the rise in recent years. The numbers have increased significantly, especially among junior high and high school girls, compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The increase might be attributable to the spread of feelings of isolation and confinement as online classes and cancellations of events have reduced contact and communication among people.

The central government has asked social media platform operators and internet providers to remove posts that appear to be aimed at inducing suicide. Efforts have been also made to display support-line contact information immediately after users conduct a search with suicide-related phrases. Such measures need to be strengthened.

If a person is struggling alone, it might be desirable to encourage the person to visit a consultation service in person. The firsthand experience of talking to people and gaining empathy from others can provide life-affirming support.

There are also novels about loneliness and difficulty in living. If a person with concerns picks up such a book and realizes they are not the only one suffering, it could help them feel more positive.

Rather than meeting someone who will help you kill yourself, it is important to meet with someone who can help you live.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 22, 2022)