Pandemic raises Japan death rate after decade of decline

Tokyo: The number of people taking their own lives in Japan rose for the first time in over a decade last year, as the pandemic reversed years of progress combating a stubbornly high suicide rate.

Japan’s health and welfare ministry said yesterday that 20,919 people died by suicide in 2020 according to preliminary data, up 3.7% from the previous year. That compares with 3,460 deaths from coronavirus in the same period.

It marks the first year-on-year rise in suicides in over a decade, with women and children in particular taking their lives at higher rates.Japan has long had the highest suicide rate among the Group of Seven advanced countries – though regionally South Korea registers higher figures.

But the government has worked in recent years to better support people with mental health needs.

Japan has seen a smaller coronavirus outbreak than some countries, avoiding the harsh lockdown measures put in place elsewhere, and a fall in suicides during the first half of 2020 raised hopes that the pandemic’s impact might be limited.But the figures began to rise in July after a first state of emergency was lifted in May, a pattern experts say tracks with data showing suicides often drop in the first phase of crises such as conflicts and natural disasters, before rising sharply.

“For suicide in Japan, the rise was a major event and I think it was a big turning point, ” said Michiko Ueda, an associate professor of political science at Waseda University in Tokyo who studies suicide in Japan.“The coronavirus is definitely a major factor, ” she added, warning that “we can’t deny the possibility that figures will rise again this year”.Mental health experts worldwide have warned that suicides could rise during the pandemic, driven by diverse factors including economic hardship, stress and family abuse.

In Japan, the rise is the first since 2009, in the wake of the global economic crisis, but it follows a different pattern from previous years.

“The pandemic forced people into unusual circumstances, ” a health ministry official said.

“In particular, problems experienced by women have been highlighted, which are thought to have led to suicides.”

Suicides among men fell slightly from 2019, but over 14% more suicides were recorded among women.

While determining the causes of rising suicides is complicated, Ueda said likely factors included increasing unemployment for women and extra burdens at home, in a country where household responsibilities are often unevenly shared in families. — AFP

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suicide , covid-19 , pandemic


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