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For the past 12 decades, Japan has been presenting high suicide rates, for being a highly developed country. Suicide rates are often measured per 100 000 people, and from 1998 until 2011, the rate in Japan was 26.1 per 100 000 people. Since 2011 rates have declined (16.7 per 100 000 people), but suicide is still a priority mental health issue in Japan (Yonemoto, Kawashima, Endo & Yamada, 2019). This is also due to reports showing that suicides among Japanese youth recently hit a 30-year high (BBC News, 2018). In 2006, The Basic Act on Suicide Prevention was enacted to address the situation. When the act was revised in 2016, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (2016) officially incorporated suicide prevention costs in the initial budget. This means that implementation of suicide prevention policies in Japan is mainly supported by public funds (Sueki, 2018).

Suicide prevention strategies in other countries often focus on increasing the availability of mental health services for people in risk groups. In comparison, prevention strategies in Japan are somewhat different as they emphasize creating public awareness of suicide along with highlighting social and economic factors related to suicide prevention (Yonemoto et al., 2019). The prevention strategies that are implemented in Japan are therefore more extensive as they involve both healthcare and non-healthcare sectors.

In 2010 the Japanese government designated March as the National Suicide Prevention Month (WHO, 2015), which is why TMH wishes to highlight this issue by addressing what you can do support those around you struggling with suicidal thoughts.

We all want to help our loved ones before it’s too late, but helping someone with severe depression could be a challenge – it doesn’t help that all too often, people with depression feel ashamed, withdrawn, and believe that it’s a “phase” that they can overcome with willpower alone. You cannot fix depression or simply force the person into changing thought patterns, but with extra attention, patience, and support, you can help.

Here are some common warning signs of suicidal thoughts to be aware of:

  • “I wish I was never born.”
  • Be aware when your loved one starts making self-deprecating statements about suicide such as “I wish I were dead”, “I don’t see the point of living.”
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs. This includes stockpiling pills.
  • Showing a tendency towards self-destructive things, such as reckless driving and putting oneself in dangerous situations.
  • Saying goodbye to family and friends as if they will not meet again. Giving away personal belongings for no apparent reasons.
  • Developing changes in normal routine, including eating and sleeping patterns. Increased social withdrawal and emotional detachment.

If your loved one is depressed, take any of the signs above seriously and take immediate actions.

  • Talk. Talk about your concerns, about whether or not they have a concrete plan about attempting suicide. Take extra caution when there is an actual plan.
  • Seek help from the person’s psychiatrist, mental health providers and professionals, and let other family members and friends know what’s going on.
  • Eliminate things that could trigger or be used to attempt suicide. Remove weapons, medications, and be aware of the person’s whereabouts.
  • Call a suicide hotline number immediately if the person is in danger of self-harm or suicide. In Japan, you can reach Tokyo Suicide Prevention Center at 03-5286-9090 from 20:00 to 5:30 everyday (the service is in Japanese only.) Make sure the person is accompanied at all times.  
  • When you have any trouble or concerns, or need to know English-speaking resources and support in Japan, counseling and support is available in English at Tokyo Mental Health:

Sources

BBC News (2018). Suicides among Japanese young people hit a 30-year high. Retrieved on 05-03-19 from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-46096626

Sueki, H. (2018) Preferences for suicide prevention strategies among university students in Japan: a cross-sectional study using full-profile conjoint analysis. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 23:9, 1046-1053, DOI: 10.1080/13548506.2018.1478436

World Health Organization (2015). Japan turning a corner in suicide prevention. Retrieved on 05-03-19 from https://www.who.int/mental_health/suicide-prevention/japan_story/en/

Yonemoto, N., Kawashima, Y., Endo, K. & Yamada, M. (2019). Implementation of gatekeeper training programs for suicide prevention in Japan: a systematic review. International Journal of Mental Health Systems. (2019) 13:2. doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s13033-018-0258-3