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Japan’s Suicide Rate Takes More Lives Than COVID-19

by Andy Xie

Photo taken by Andy Xie

“Can you untie the rope around his neck? Is it really fine for us to stay like this?” This is one of the song lyrics that was included in Lost One’s Weeping, a song written and uploaded by the producer Neru who focuses on heavy metal, or EDM. This song was uploaded to YouTube on December 19, 2017, where it explains and questions the heavy burden education places on young students. The song portrays the protagonist in the video, Mamoru, fighting an internal struggle about his school life.

In the heart of Japan, Tokyo, suicide rates have been increasing. Far more Japanese are dying of suicide than of COVID-19. While Japan contained the spread of COVID-19 much better than any other nation, that can’t be said for their suicide rates which have increased over the last two months.

There is an emerging concern that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a toll on the psychological and mental health of young students in school, whether that would be blended learning or remote. While Japan has kept their COVID-19 deaths lower than 2,000, more than 17,000 Japanese took their own lives this year in Japan. More than a third of total suicides were all female.

The pandemic this year has impacted women severely and added burdens on top of their responsibility as a mother. They have the responsibility to care for their children, work for their children, and pay rent and deal with debt. Especially now with the pandemic, many small businesses are shutting down and many parents are losing their jobs. The National Police Agency statistics show that 651 women took their own lives in the month of July and this continues to rise even higher.

Many doctors show concern for the rise in mental health distress that has been caused by COVID-19. Because of COVID-19, many people are socially distancing and feeling alone and

empty at home which induces suicidal thoughts and mental behavior. There has been academic pressure on students these past few months of quarantine. Japanese youth suicide rates have been on the rise for many years but this year in August, 59 elementary, middle, and high school students killed themselves, which is more than twice as many as the period last year in 2019.

Many say that the reasoning behind it was increased bullying when mandatory attendance was resumed in June and the pressure on students of having little time to make up work. Not only that, the pandemic made way for financial loss and loss of employment which is a known factor for suicidal behavior in Japan. Small businesses are shutting down because of the lack of customers and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Japan has struggled with its high suicide rates over time for many reasons and one of which is overworking. Almost 2,000 suicides were related to work in the year 2016. Many Japanese are forced to work overtime, some even 14 hours a day, until the point of suicide or heart failure. This is known as Karoshi, which is a term that translates to “death by overwork” where employees commit suicide from overworking or from heart failure and strokes.

A young reporter named Miwa Sado, age 31, covered political news in Tokyo and was found dead. The Japanese authorities had said her death was caused by excessive work and overtime. She only had two days off from her work and 159 hours of overtime, the month before she died. The company she worked at, NHK, publicly announced her death four years later.

The monthly suicide rates in Japan in the first 5 months (February to June) of the year 2020, declined by 14% which could be explained by the government's generous stimulus checks, reduced working hours, and school closure. However, Japan’s suicide rates soon took a turn for the worse. The rates increased months after (July to September) to 13%, where a large number of females and children made up that percentage. The government may be aiding them with subsidies but how long that can be sustained for is questionable. Suicide rates claimed more lives than the pandemic and could rise even further. This is a general health issue and concern that can't be looked over.

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