In Brief

What is behind Japan’s soaring youth suicide rate?

The number of children and teenagers taking their own lives has reached a 30-year-high

Child suicides in Japan have risen to their highest level in more than three decades, according to the latest government figures.

Last year, 250 children and teenagers took their own lives, more than in any year since 1986, The Japan Times reports. This is despite a significant drop in overall suicide rates, the paper adds.

“The number of suicides of students have stayed high, and that is an alarming issue which should be tackled,” said Noriaki Kitazaki, a Ministry of Education official.

In the majority of cases, the reason behind the suicide was unknown, but some children were reported to have been bullied, while others had family problems or concerns about their future.

Japan has long battled one of the highest suicide rates in the industrialised world, according to the World Health Organisation.

In the late 1990s, “suicide was a socially taboo topic in Japan, rarely discussed in the public sphere,” the organisation says.

Since then, Japan has made significant strides in suicide prevention, particularly among middle-aged men and the elderly, but youth suicide rates continue to soar.

Although child suicide is not a problem unique to Japan, mental illness is “still not an open topic of discussion,” and it is difficult for children and teenagers who are depressed or anxious to seek help, the New York Times reports.

“In Japan, your biggest problem is that there is a greater stigma about mental health problems than in other countries,” Vickie Skorji, director of TELL, a counselling and crisis intervention service in Tokyo, told the newspaper.

Many deaths are believed to be linked to academic pressures and bullying. A government study published in 2015 recorded an annual spike in child and teen suicides on September 1, the start of the new school year.

“You’re most likely to get bullied, and less likely to get support services and understanding from your parents,” she added.

If you are in the UK and need immediate mental health support, please contact the Samaritans free on 116 123.

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