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Postpartum support for mothers still hard to come by in Japan

A woman pushes a baby carriage in Tokyo in April 2017. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Postpartum support for mothers to cope with depression and other mental health symptoms is still hard to come by despite the government's efforts in recent years to promote it, a survey showed Saturday.

    Funding and staff shortages are the major obstacles to making such support more widely available, according to the nationwide survey conducted in January and February by the Mizuho Information & Research Institute on behalf of the health ministry.

    Only 26.2 percent of 1,384 municipalities that responded to the survey operate postpartum support services even though the central government has been offering subsidies since fiscal 2015 to finance half of the running cost, the survey showed.

    Among municipalities without such services, those planning to start them in the future were also low at 34.4 percent, with 28.6 percent saying they have no plans to introduce them due largely to funding and staff shortages.

    In postpartum support, midwives, nurses and other experts offer advice and help ease mothers' anxieties by listening to their problems at home, hospitals or other facilities.

    Postpartum depression is often associated with loneliness with no people around to talk to about their feelings and problems. It could develop into more serious health problems or cause parents to harm their child or themselves.

    The government has compiled a guideline in 2017 outlining postpartum service methods and key issues to consider, but the municipalities polled in the survey said they wanted more financial and other support from the state.

    Some municipalities said such services are not fully known by people raising a child.

    "There are municipalities which are reluctant to set up a budget (for postpartum support) due to uncertainties about cost effectiveness, but enhancing the child-rearing environment is helpful in addressing the issue of declining population. A long-term perspective is needed," said Naomi Shiki, chief consultant at the Mizuho Information & Research Institute.

    Ways to tackle child abuse have been attracting attention in Japan after the shocking death of a 5-year-old girl in March who had begged her parents to stop mistreating her. Her mother and stepfather were arrested and indicted in June over neglect that led to the girl's death from sepsis caused by pneumonia.

    As emergency measures, the government decided in July on a 1.6-fold increase in the number of child welfare personnel by fiscal 2022 from 3,253 nationwide as of April last year. Such staffers offer consultation and support to children and parents.

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