Small Changes in People’s Behavior Must Not Be Overlooked

The prolonged novel coronavirus pandemic has cast a shadow on people’s mental health.

This is clearly indicated by the increasing number of suicides. After peaking in 2003, the figure had been on a downward trend, but it turned upward in 2020 after the outbreak started. It decreased slightly in 2021, but rose again in 2022.

Suicides among men rose for the first time in 13 years, while suicides among women and children also remained high. It is also concerning that there were many suicides among people with low incomes, such as the unemployed and pensioners. This is thought to be because the protracted pandemic has increased uncertainty about the future.

These results highlight the reality that anxiety is prevailing among a wide range of people. The central and local governments must take this situation seriously and expedite efforts to provide support for people’s livelihoods and expand consultation services.

The causes of suicide are complex and vary with each individual, but many people are believed to be mentally depressed before they take their own lives.

When the symptoms of depression become severe, sufferers lose the will to even contact a consultation service by themselves. The signs of depression must be detected at an early stage, so that support can be provided.

In the Kuji region of Iwate Prefecture, a community-wide effort has succeeded in significantly reducing the number of suicides.

Local residents have formed a network in cooperation with administrative bodies and specialists to learn about depression and deepen their understanding of the condition. They have expanded their efforts to talk and listen to people around them who are suffering from depression. It may be advisable for other municipalities to learn from this example.

The pandemic has affected people’s feelings extensively.

Children experienced a lengthy period during which their communication with friends was restricted due to the cancellation of school events, the practice of eating in silence, and online classes. This may have hindered their mental development. It is essential to keep an eye on them over the long term.

The pandemic has also been cited as a factor behind the increase in such problems as bullying, truancy, domestic violence, abuse and eating disorders. A system should be created to take care of all those around us, not just children, so as not to overlook small changes in them.

To maintain a sound mind, it is important to help each other and build a mutual rapport, and enjoy literature and the arts, too. A passage that someone encounters in a poem might give them the courage to live.

On May 8, the government will lower the classification of the novel coronavirus to Category V under the Infectious Disease Control Law, down from its current level as a disease equivalent to Category II. Environmental changes can also cause stress. As a new phase begins, the need to protect people’s mental health must be addressed.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 6, 2023)