Japan hopes database on suicide attempts could become prevention tool

The health ministry will establish a registry detailing suicide attempts in a bid to paint a clearer picture of the issue and provide greater support to people who have tried to take their own lives.

From this fiscal year, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will collect data on people who attempted to commit suicide and were taken to an emergency medical care center. Staffers at these facilities will ask details such as the person’s gender, age and how they attempted to end their life. This information will be recorded in a manner that does not reveal the person’s identity.

Suicide attempt survivors are said to have a high risk of trying again to kill themselves, so this registry will form the foundation for strengthened prevention measures. The ministry aims to eventually have all emergency medical care centers across Japan involved in the new initiative.

The World Health Organization urges nations to establish a so-called suicide-attempt registry system. According to the ministry, these registers are already used in Costa Rica and parts of Britain and Belgium. The ministry expects collected information will be anonymized and recorded in a database. The ministry plans to reflect this accumulated data in measures developed to prevent suicide, such as bolstering medical care and welfare systems.

Research into possible issues that could arise when the registry is launched has been conducted at about 10 locations across Japan since September. The content of the questions has been carefully examined, and will check whether a suicide attempt survivor had used welfare services. Other questions include “Which staff member asked, and when, about the person’s desire to die?” and “Was the person’s case passed on to other entities such as a mental health and welfare center or child consultation center?”

Teikyo University School of Medicine Prof. Yasufumi Miyake, who is in charge of this research, believes the registry would have two main benefits.

“Collecting data on suicide attempts from patients at emergency medical care facilities across Japan will be useful for devising suicide prevention measures,” said Miyake, an expert in emergency medicine. “I also hope it helps raise awareness of this issue, for example by helping medical staff to remember that these patients want to end their lives, and then getting other relevant organizations involved.”

The Japan Suicide Countermeasures Promotion Center, a general incorporated association and a nationally designated organization involved in researching measures to prevent suicide, will build the registry’s framework.

“Support for suicide survivors needs to be boosted across the board, through such means as getting a clearer picture of the true situation and providing enhanced training to local government and medical care workers,” said Yasuyuki Shimizu, representative director of the center.

According to figures compiled by the ministry and National Police Agency, 21,007 people committed suicide in Japan in 2021. Many observers are concerned more people might turn to killing themselves after becoming isolated or falling on hard times during the novel coronavirus pandemic, so enhanced suicide countermeasures will be required.