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Tokyo gov't' Line for distressed teenage students sees high message volume amid pandemic

A screen capture from the "Sodan Hotto Line at Tokyo" on the Line Messaging App is seen in this image. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A Tokyo Metropolitan Government-run consultation service on free-messaging app LINE aimed at local junior high and high school students is seeing a number of messages from young people about their concerns and anxiety as a result of the spread of the new coronavirus.

    Young people are used to Line, making it easy for them come forward for consultations. The messages they're sending also provide a small look into the ways the changes from the coronavirus crisis have affected junior high and high school students' mental state.

    Among the content of the messages are concerns such as, "I feel anxious not being able to see my friends," and, "I'm spending too much time at home and I'm not taking on the things I study," and, "I got in a fight with my parents about my study-life balance."

    Between April and September, a period in which the new coronavirus was spreading around Japan, some 1,800 consultations were made to the metropolitan government's "Sodan Hotto Line at Tokyo," a service whose name roughly translates to consultation hot line at Tokyo.

    It appears that the cause behind many of the messages was the closures of schools in response to the virus's spread. There was also reported to be an especially high rate of messages to the service when schools reopened over June and July.

    With the exception of bullying, a large number of consultations between April and September concerned friendships, with 434 cases on the subject. Another 187 were about poor academic performance, and 174 involved family matters. The number of consultations about low grades this academic year has already exceeded the 168 received in the 2019 academic year, which shows the significant influence the simultaneous closing of schools has had. The metropolitan government also said that family-related consultations are high compared to the previous academic year.

    Additionally, there have been messages describing worries about what to do next with their studies. One wrote, "I'd been thinking about applying to college on the admission office testing system, but with school closed I've not been able to bring my grades back up." Others wrote about their feelings of insecurity, such as, "I feel anxious that school is starting." Furthermore, messages describing acts consistent with abuse, such as, "I was hit by my angry parents," have also been up on last year.

    In the consultations, responders with qualifications as psychological counselors send replies to the students, and offer emotional support regarding their troubles. From the 2020 academic year, highly experienced support staff at the Tokyo Metropolitan Education Consultation Center have also partnered with the service to respond to students. An official at the metropolitan government said, "Young people's honest anxieties and concerns are appearing (via the app service). While being careful about their current emotional state, we must continue to look at what they show."

    Sodan Hotto Line at Tokyo began in April 2019. In academic 2019, it received 2,775 consultations, and up to now more than 27,000 people are registered with its Line account. Even after the establishment of the Line consultations, the number of telephone-based ones received hasn't changed, and a member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education said, "It's easy to get a consultation (with the app,) and we've been able to gather the voices of people who couldn't come to us on the phone or by other means."

    If Line users search for Sodan Hotto Line at Tokyo in the app, they can register by adding the account as a "friend." Consultations are accepted between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. daily.

    (Japanese original by Asako Takeuchi, City News Department)

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