For the first time in eleven years, Japan has seen a spike in the number of suicides in the country. The government has now appointed a Minister of loneliness to reduce loneliness and social isolation among the residents.
As per a report in Japan Times, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga appointed Tetsushi Sakamoto as the ‘Minister of Loneliness’. Sakamoto is already dealing with the declining birth rate in Japan and promoting regional revitalization.
During a press conference, PM Suga, while appointing Sakamoto on February 12, said, “Women are suffering from isolation more (than men are), and the number of suicides is on a rising trend. I hope you will identify problems and promote policy measures comprehensively.”
The history of loneliness in Japan
Loneliness has been a problematic issue for Japan for a long time. It is often discussed along with “hikikomori”, which means the people who live in extreme social isolation. Several attempts have been made so far to deal with the issue. For example, engineers have developed a robot that is programmed to hold someone’s hand when they are lonely. There are service providers who charge people to keep them company. You can also hire a companion or someone to cuddle in Japan. Other services to tackle loneliness include hire a friend or hire a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Rise in death rate during the Covid-19 pandemic
As per reports, there has been a rise in suicides in Japan during the pandemic as people were more socially isolated than ever. This was the first time Japan saw an increase in suicide cases in eleven years.
A rise in suicides cases during the pandemic
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with people more socially isolated than ever, Japan saw a rise in suicides for the first time in 11 years. According to the Japan Times, the preliminary figure released by the National Policy Agency showed that 20,919 people died of suicide in 2020, which was 750 more than the previous year. There was a noticeable rise in suicides among young people and women. In October alone, 879 women died by suicide in Japan that was 70% more compared to 2019.
Michiko Ueda, a professor who is studying suicides in Japan, said that many single women are living alone, and a large number of them do not have stable employment. “They have to support their own lives and they don’t have permanent jobs. So, when something happens, of course, they are hit very, very hard,” said Ueda.
Loneliness is a worldwide issue
Japan is not the only country to be dealing with loneliness. A 2017 Red Cross report suggested that over nine million people in the United Kingdom feel lonely or left out. After the study was released, the UK became the first nation to appoint a loneliness minister in 2018. The British government has defined loneliness as “a subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship.”
Ramona Herdman, head of tackling loneliness at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in the United Kingdom had said, “Loneliness is always an unwelcome feeling and an experience which leads to bad health outcomes.”
In a 2018 report, global health organization Cigna said that loneliness “has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity.”