The pandemic has added a layer of anxiety to Nazuna Hashimoto, a young woman living in Osaka. She lost her job at a training center, closed to prevent transmission of the virus.
Posted on February 28, 2021 at 6:00 a.m.
In July, she tried to end her life.
“I suffered from depression,” said the 20-year-old woman in an email to Press. I think the hardest part was getting people to understand mental illness. ”
She decided to speak publicly, including telling her story at New York Times, in an attempt to break the taboo surrounding mental health in Japan. With her lover, she set up an application to facilitate access to professionals.
Increase in the number of suicides among women
The issue of mental health has returned to the fore in Japan after a marked increase in the number of suicides among women last October. The year 2020 saw its first increase for this type of death in 11 years.
The first hypotheses point to an economic crisis that has hit young Japanese women hardest, in areas strongly affected by measures against COVID-19, such as travel, hotels and food.
“This is unusual because male suicides are normally the ones that are seen to increase when there are changes in economic conditions,” notes Osaka University professor Tetsuya Matsubayashi, whose research focuses on the suicide.
Her analyzes, conducted with Michiko Ueda of Waseda University, suggest a link between monthly unemployment rates and suicide rates among women under 39 in 2019 and 2020. “For now, this is not only assumptions and we will need more information to understand what is really going on in Japan, ”he says.
Other reasons have been put forward, such as isolation, marital problems exacerbated by the pandemic and high-profile suicides by Japanese stars over the past year.
“There were a few in a row, very famous actresses, who seemed to have an ideal life and who committed suicide,” notes Bernard Bernier, professor in the anthropology department at the University of Montreal. and associated with the Center for Asian Studies. It made the headlines and it had a kind of ripple effect. ”
Ministry of Solitude
Faced with alarming data, the government created in mid-February a “Ministry of Solitude”, taking up this concept set up in 2018 in the United Kingdom. Its role will be to examine possible avenues to break isolation and prevent suicide.
“I think any measure that could help prevent suicide, make it a topic of discussion, remove the shame from around it, is a good idea,” Ulrike Schaede, professor at the University, responded on the phone. from California to San Diego.
This specialist from Japan notes that a certain “fascination” with suicide still exists in the country, where the idea of seeking help for mental health problems remains taboo.
She warns, however, against too hasty conclusions about suicides in Japan, which is not the country with the highest rate.
According to data from the World Health Organization from 2016, it was at 14e rank, last Russia, South Korea and Belgium, in particular.
It is also rare for countries to publish their suicide data on a monthly basis, adds Mr.me Schaede. For her, this almost real-time compilation is an advantage for quickly acting on the prevention side.
In Quebec, for example, the last available official data on suicide dates from 2018: the Coroner’s Office is investigating these deaths, and the average time to complete a report is 11 months.
“It does not hurt, because we still have the ability to have clues more quickly, nuance the director general of the Quebec Association for the prevention of suicide, Jérôme Gaudreault. The coroner still has an approximate idea of the situation, which is why every month, we receive a communication from him to say whether there have been variations in the suicide rates. ”
Different regional authorities can also sound the alarm in the event of a marked increase, before the end of the coroners’ inquests.
Mr. Gaudreault finds the idea “very interesting” of a ministry of Solitude or dedicated to mental health, a concept that Quebec could also look into, he said.
Bernard Bernier believes that the changes in the Land of the Rising Sun should be done in depth to take the pressure off the workers. “I think there are a number of things that need to be changed in Japan; one of the things is really orientation, exaggerated, in my opinion, towards work, he says. Not just the work that defines us, but the very long working hours as well. ”
Nazuna Hashimoto says she received “a lot of love” after her public testimony about her experience. She had only spoken of her suicide attempt to close friends.
“People downplay mental illness because we don’t have a long culture of mental health,” she writes. People have to think hard before they find the courage to go to a psychiatrist. ”
The young woman now wants to help change mentalities.
If you need support, are having thoughts of suicide, or are worried about a loved one, call 1 866 APPELLE (1 866 277-3553). A suicide prevention worker is available to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also visit commentparlerdusuicide.com.