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Japan the only G-7 country where young people are most likely to die from suicide

The Central Government Building No. 5 in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward that houses the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is seen in this file photo taken on Oct. 14, 2015. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- 2018 marked the lowest suicide rate in Japan for 37 years, with total deaths at less than 21,000, at a rate of 16.5 people per 100,000 citizens, according to the government's annual white paper on suicide prevention.

But despite the positive news, rates of decline for those in their 20s and 30s were less precipitous than for people in their 40s and above, and the number of people between ages 10 and 19 taking their own lives rose to 599, a 32-person rise on last year.

Even more alarming is that the number one cause of death among people between ages 10 and 39 in Japan is still suicide. The country also holds the dubious distinction of being the only G-7 member to report suicide as the highest cause of mortality for citizens aged between 15 and 34.

According to the white paper on suicide prevention, analysis of suicide in younger generations over the 10-year period up to 2018 showed that academic issues such as bad grades or advancing to the next level of school were the biggest reason people aged 10 to 19 took their own lives.

Furthermore, the proportion of those citing family issues increased while the ratio of cases related to health problems fell. Rates of suicide relating to health also fell in the 20s and 30s cohorts while it remained the most prevalent cause. Many reported cases came from financial, life and work issues.

The government's response to the white paper's figures highlighted suicides among the younger generation are still a serious problem.

Split by gender, it showed that almost 70% of those who took their own lives in 2018 were men, at 14,290 people. Broken down by age, older and middle-aged people represented a significant portion of the figures; 17.2% were in their 50s, 16.8% in their 40s and 14.8% in their 60s. Analyzed by employment status, 56.5% were unemployed, 30.9% were employed, and 3.9% were students at school or in higher education.

In 15,551 of the cases, a motive or cause for suicide was established. Of those, 10,423, around 70%, were said to have been due to health problems. In subsequent order of prevalence, many were ascribed to economic or lifestyle issues, others to problems at home, and also to difficulties at work.

In an attempt to curb suicides, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare introduced online consultations through social media; the number of consultations received via the services in fiscal 2018 came to over 22,725.

The services showed an overwhelming prevalence of use by younger generations; under 20s made up the biggest group using the services at 43.9% of the total. Users in their 20s were the second largest at 41.3%. Some 92.1% of users were female.

The most common issue consulted on was mental health problems; followed by suicidal thoughts as well as issues at home and at school.

Praising the online consultation services, the ministry said, "It's becoming a repository for dialogue with people who had been difficult to reach and support up to now."

Speaking about its subsequent plans for the scheme, it said, "As a great number of consultations come our way, we have to know which cases to prioritize to make the system effective."

(Japanese original by Takuya Murata, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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