01/17/2020, 13.34
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Japan’s suicide rate drops to its lowest point in 40 years

The suicide rate fell to 15.8 people per 100,000, a decline of 0.7 over 2018. Increased psychological services and hotlines played a key role in the improvement. So has a law limiting overtime and requiring a government-imposed annual stress tests on business with over 50 employees.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Suicides in Japan in 2019 dropped to 19,959 , the lowest number in more than 40 years, preliminary police data published on Friday indicate. This marks the 10th straight year of declines.

Though suicide has a long history in Japan as a way of avoiding shame or dishonor, and its suicide rate still tops the Group of Seven nations, Japanese suicides have dropped by about 40 per cent in 15 years.

The number of suicides last year fell by 881, bringing the overall number under 20,000 for the first time since record-keeping began in 1978.

The suicide rate edged down to 15.8 people per 100,000, a dip of 0.7. By gender, 13,937 men and 6,022 women took their own lives. There was no breakdown by age group.

Japanese suicides peaked at 34,427 in 2003, alarming policymakers and drawing foreign attention.

Although the police did not give any reason for the decline, and an improving economy has undoubtedly helped, a 2007 suicide prevention programme tweaked in 2016 to allow for regional differences is apparently bearing fruit.

Increased psychological services, a growing number of hotlines, and other volunteer outreach groups that help people express their innermost feelings have all played a role.

Corporations, prompted by lawsuits from families of those who kill themselves because of overwork, have made it easier to take leave, with more offering psychological support.

A law caps overtime, and the government mandates annual stress tests in companies with over 50 employees.

Despite the lower number of cases in recent years, suicide remains one of Japan's most serious social problems.

What is more, youth suicide has bucked the trend with experts pointing to school pressures and bullying as possible triggers for the rise.

In 2017, the number of suicides among young people hit its highest level since 1986 with 250 elementary, middle and high school children taking their own life.

The protection of life was also one of the main topics addressed by Pope Francis in his recent apostolic visit to Japan (23-26 November 2019). In fact, the theme for the papal trip was ‘Protect all life’.

In a letter published on AsiaNews before the historic event, Archbishop Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo echoed the topic writing that “Isolation, poverty, no respect for human life and inability to find hope are killing people in modern Japan.”

During his visit, when he spoke with the local bishops about the evils afflicting society, the pontiff noted that “The increase in the rates of suicide in your cities, as well as bullying (ijime) and various kinds of neediness, are creating new forms of alienation and spiritual disorientation.”

Indeed, “Since these affect the young in particular, I ask you to pay special attention to them and their needs. Try to create spaces in which the culture of efficiency, performance and success can become open to a culture of generous and selfless love, capable of offering to everyone, and not only to those who have ‘made it’, the possibility of a happy and successful life.”

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