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Editorial: Japan's high suicide numbers show support not reaching people most in need

There were 20,830 suicides across Japan in 2021, according to preliminary figures released by the National Police Agency. That is slightly lower than the 2020 total, when the number of suicides rose for the first time in 11 years, but it is still high.

    Of particular concern is the increase in suicides stemming from economic hardship. The ratio of those taking their own lives because of "poverty" rose about 10% from the previous year, to nearly 1,000 people.

    Freelancers and non-permanent employees have lost work one after another amid the coronavirus pandemic. And it appears likely that government aid for people in poverty did not adequately reach those in need. A review is needed.

    The number of women taking their own lives jumped in 2020 amid the pandemic, and has stayed high since. Home-related motives such as exhaustion from providing nursing care to a family member have also increased. There must be an effort to uncover the root problems.

    Loneliness and social isolation are important factors when considering a suicide prevention policy.

    People's social contacts have been reduced because of the pandemic, resulting in significant loneliness and isolation. The feeling of having no one to turn to, of being increasingly cornered and alone, has been pointed out as one possible trigger for suicides.

    "This problem must be dealt with by all of society." This was highlighted by the level of importance the central government assigned to tackling loneliness and social isolation in its priority planning document at the end of 2021.

    The Japanese government divided ministries and agencies' more than 200 public policy initiatives into four categories to tackle the problem, including "consultation and support" and "strengthening public-private cooperation." But just totting up a list of policies is meaningless. To make the most of limited staff numbers and financial resources, government organizations must overcome barriers and get to grips with the crisis. The authorities should also make implementation more efficient, such as by merging similar initiatives and prioritizing policies to get the most important ones rolling first.

    It is furthermore imperative to reflect input from those on the ground in these policies. Nonprofit organizations helping those in poverty are seeing more tough cases, including people saying they "want to die." It is completely unacceptable for these organizations to have nowhere they can connect these desperate people with, and no way to help them.

    To prevent places offering support from also becoming the places where support ends, the government should direct the implementation of deeper policy plans. Authorities should inform private aid organizations about the appropriate specialist institutions and government departments tasked with dealing with these problems. To do this, establishing a dedicated "connection desk" should be considered.

    Japan is known globally for its large number of suicides, which remain high compared with other rich nations. To improve this tragic reality, the government must do away with the silo structure of its ministries and agencies and build a system for cooperation with private entities. We would like to see Japan become a society where help reaches people weighed down by their anxieties.

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