Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Sad Reality And A Possible Way To Prevent It

Japan has one of the highest suicide rates among the industrialized nations-some say it is 100 per day. The reasons are similar to other countries -unemployment, financial troubles, depression etc and there are cultural issues as well given that psychiatry and counselling is not viewed in a good light here. What might be different is one way that people commit suicide.

In Japan, many people jump in front of trains to kill themselves. This is a big problem as at least 2000 people killed themselves this way last year. I have been on trains that have stopped in the middle of a field because someone jumped at the next station-it is a very strange feeling knowing that someone just killed themselves. What makes it even sadder (if that is possible) is that the family of the person who jumped, must pay for the clean up and for the time it takes to do it.
This has become such a big problem in Japan that some stations are now installing blue LED lights at some train stations. While there isn't any scientific proof that blue lights will prevent suicides, they believe that blue lights have a calming effect and might make someone pause and reflect and that is reason enough to install them. The picture below shows the newly installed blue LED lights.


Anonymous said...

Wow...thats wild...I wonder why so many pple would do that.

I've given your blog an award:

Pili said...

Wow... that's so sad... Hopefully the blue lights will help somewhat.

Amy Nicole/RubyMtnBeads said...

interesting tidbit.

'Cuz I Felt Like It! said...

As if the families aren't put through enough losing a loved one, then they gotta pay...that's horrible.

Anonymous said...

Installing the blue lights won't solve the problem. It's really ridiculous and stupid that Japan is so focused on just trying to stop the action of suicide, rather than getting at the very cause of it. Instead of installing all these stupid things such as a 'fence' or 'blue lights' to prevent people from killing themselves, they need to change their mentality and start thinking differently about the social issues that are the cause for such high suicide rates, and determine how they can treat people who are depressed instead of shunning them because of age-old beliefs that they are possessed by evil spirits. Psychological treatments in Japan are very behind and it's really terrible what people must resort to because they are practically shunned from society and even their families cause they have a mental disorder. Something needs to change.

Andrew Grimes JSCCP, JCP said...

Actually over 90 people a day on average kill themselves in Japan, but it is of course still a terrible number and terrible loss of life. It is not a "given" that psychiatry and counselling is held in a bad light in Japan. There are several 'urban myths'here but I do think it is a good thing that you have focused with care and concern on such a serious problem as suicide in Japan.

I am a JSCCP clinical psychologist and JFP psychotherapist working in Japan for over 20 years. I would like to put forward a perspective on some of the main reasons behind the unacceptably high suicide numbers in Japan.

Mental health professionals in Japan have long known that the reason for the unnecessarily high suicide rate in Japan is due to unemployment, bankruptcies, and the increasing levels of stress on businessmen and other salaried workers who have suffered enormous hardship in Japan since the bursting of the stock market bubble here that peaked around 1997. Until that year Japan had annual suicide of rate figures between 22,000 and 24,000 each year. Following the bursting of the stock market and the long term economic downturn that has followed here since the suicide rate in 1998 increased by around 35% and since 1998 the number of people killing themselves each year in Japan has consistently remained well over 30,000 each and every year to the present day.

The current worldwide recession is of course impacting Japan too, so unless the new administration initiates very proactive and well funded local and nationwide suicide prevention programs and other mental health care initiatives, including tackling the widespread problem of clinical depression suffered by so many of the general population, it is very difficult to foresee the previous government's stated target to reduce the suicide rate to around 23,000 by the year 2016 as being achievable. On the contrary the numbers, and the human suffering and the depression and misery that the people who become part of these numbers, have to endure may well stay at the current levels that have persistently been the case here for the last ten years. It could even get worse unless even more is done to prevent this terrible loss of life.

The current numbers licensed psychiatrists (around 13,000), Japan Society of Certified Clinical Psychologists clinical psychologists (19,830 as of 2009), and Psychiatric Social Workers (39,108 as of 2009) must indeed be increased. In order for professional mental health counseling and psychotherapy services to be covered for depression and other mental illnesses by public health insurance it would seem advisable that positive action is taken to resume and complete the negotiations on how to achieve national licensing for clinical psychologists in Japan through the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and not just the Ministry of Education as is the current situation. These discussions were ongoing between all concerned mental health professional authorities that in the ongoing select committee and ministerial levels that were ongoing during the Koizumi administration. With the current economic recession adding even more hardship and stress in the lives its citizens, now would seem to be a prime opportunity for the responsible Japanese to take a pro-active approach to finally providing government approval for national licensing for clinical psychologists who provide mental health care counseling and psychotherapy services to the people of Japan.

Useful telephone numbers and links for Japanese residents of Japan who speak Japanese and are feeling depressed or suicidal:
Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service):

Japan: 0120-738-556
Tokyo: 3264 4343

Tokyo Counseling Services:

さらまり said...

There is a lot to say about this sad topic, but atleast they are trying something. I hope they will do some studies on the blue lights to see if there is an effect.

FromJapanWithLove said... lots of responses. I too doubt that blue lights will really do much but as someone least they are trying to do something.

Andrew-I realize I'm not a counsellor but I do believe there is a stigma about getting counselling - about opening up about yourself here in Japan. Maybe it is better/easier in Tokyo but I live in the countryside. I have had students whose classmates killed themselves and they didn't get any counselling from school. That is unheard of in Canada. When I was a high school student we had a teacher die in a car accident, students get killed by a train and we all had counsellors come to our classes and they were available to us at any time.

Reaching out for help-to talk about such personal things I think is difficult for many Japanese-not impossible but very difficult.

Grace said...

that is just awful..... honestly, I don't think the blue light will really do much. A calm feeling and all, but if one has their mind made up about suicide, they'd go for it no matter what. Sheesh.... just the thought of being in the train and coming to a stop because of that?? It would be traumatic for myself....

Satorare said...

That's very sad... :-(
It seems such cases are increasing here in Germany too... :-/
I think, it's the capitalistic system. You only have to be functional. No one cares about your inner feelings... and you often have to wait more than 6 months to get a place in therapy. :-(


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