Japan like many other developed nations witnessed an alarming rise in suicides or attempted suicides over this past year of pandemic shutdowns and social distancing measures. The country was already at crisis levels even before the pandemic (though generally on a downward trajectory the prior decade), with recent studies showing it to be "the leading cause of death in men among the ages of 20-44 and women among the ages of 15 to 34."
To tackle the crisis, especially in the midst of this COVID-induced period of greater social isolation, Japan's government has appointed a "Minister of Loneliness" after the UK became the first country to establish such a position in 2018.
The most recent numbers cited in Japanese media reports say that 879 women killed themselves in the country during the month of October, a figure that marks a whopping 70% increase compared to the same month from 2019. Officials have noted that the pandemic and oftentimes mandated social distancing measures have appeared to have a harsher impact on women.
According to Japan Times, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga earlier in the month appointed as the new Minister of Loneliness a 70-year old veteran politician named Tetsushi Sakamoto. It is a cabinet level position which aims to alleviate social isolation among citizens.
He'll head up an 'emergency taskforce' to battle the disturbing spike in suicides nationally as his first order of business. "With isolation tied to an array of social woes such as suicide, poverty and hikikomori (social recluses), the Cabinet Office also established a task force Friday that seeks to address the problem of loneliness across various ministries, including by investigating its impact," Japan Times writes.
"According to preliminary figures released by the National Police Agency, 20,919 people took their own lives in 2020, up 750 from the previous year and marking the first year-on-year increase in 11 years. The surge is largely attributed to a noticeable rise in suicides among women and young people," the report pointed out.
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