Posted in Mental Health on October 19, 2017
Last modified on May 12th, 2019
Teen Depression & High Suicide Rates in Japan: The Causes & Factors
If a teenager in your life is showing any signs of hopelessness or suicidal thoughts, it may be time to find a teen rehab for depression. Unfortunately, signs of suicide often go overlooked in many cultures. In Japan, the suicide rate for children and teens is staggering and mental health professionals are struggling to figure out how to prevent this rampant problem.
The State of Teen Depression & Suicide in Japan
In 2015, Japanese children between the ages of 10 and 19 were more likely to commit suicide than to die of any other cause. There are approximately 4,600 deaths by suicide and 157,000 hospitalizations for self-inflicted injuries each year for Japanese youth between the ages of 10 and 24 years.
Child and teen suicide rates spike each year in September and in April, when kids go back to school after the summer and spring breaks, respectively. Some experts say that this is due to shaken jigoku, also known as “examination hell,” which represents an overall fear and anxiety about one’s academic and potential professional performance. Other experts say the problems start at home.
Contributing Factors of Teen Depression & Suicide
Suicide has a different meaning and connotation in Japanese culture. Ritual suicide, known as seppuku, has been used for centuries as a way for soldiers to avoid capture in battle. Seppuku involves inflicting irreparable physical injury to oneself and is revered as a brave and honorable way to die. This is contrary to the cultural beliefs surrounding suicide in many Christian countries, where suicide is considered a sin. While this unique cultural attitude towards suicide doesn’t explain why children and teens choose the path of suicide at alarming rates, it is a significant contributing factor.
A more likely cause for the high suicide rate in Japan is hikikomori, a growing trend of social isolation. Many Japanese youth feel isolated from their peers or family members for a variety of reasons. Shame about poor school performance or difficulty choosing an honorable career path also cause internal feelings of isolation. Hikikomori is becoming a greater problem in Japan in recent years.
The contributing factors of teen suicide also seem to vary with age. According to the Japanese government, elementary and junior high students are more likely to commit suicide due to problems at home, such as when children are severely punished or don’t get along with their parents. During school breaks, children and teens spend a great deal of time at home, which may explain why children are more likely to commit suicide after spending prolonged periods at home. However, practical concerns (such as fear about poor school performance or career options) and mental health issues (such as depression) are more likely causes for suicide among adolescents.
Other experts say that children and teens are more likely to commit suicide because Japanese culture emphasizes the importance of being part of a whole community. Children who stand out from the crowd are more likely to be bullied or shunned by peers, which can exacerbate feelings of isolation. During the time in life when children are discovering who they are, the Japanese emphasis on collectivism may be a breeding ground for depression.
Preventing Teen Depression & Suicide
Children between the ages of 10 and 15 years old are most at risk for committing suicide because they are the least likely to show signs of depression or suicidal behavior, says the Cabinet Office of Japan. At home, it’s crucial for family members and friends to watch out for the warning signs of suicide, particularly during school breaks. Warning signs of suicide include:
- Talking about feeling hopeless, having no reason to live or wanting to die
- Talking about feeling unbearable pain or looking for ways to commit suicide
- Talking about being a burden on loved ones
- Risk-taking behavior such as using drugs or alcohol
- Withdrawing from social relationships
- Changes in sleep patterns, such as not sleeping enough or sleeping too much
- Expressing rage, aggression or anxiety
- Profound mood swings
According to the World Health Organization, one of the best ways to prevent suicide is to talk about it with someone you think may be at risk. There is often a sense that suicide is unacceptable to talk about, particularly in Japanese culture, but talking about suicidal thoughts and feelings can be enough to show an at-risk child or teen that someone cares.
If you find that a teenager in your life may be suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts, seek out help from a teen rehab for depression right away. While governmental agencies are continuing to test out methods for suicide prevention, the best way to stop suicide is to ask questions and show your support.
Iga, M. (1981). Suicide of Japanese Youth. Suicide & Life-Threatening Behavior, 11(1), 17-30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7233479
Lu. S. (2015). The Mystery Behind Japan’s High Suicide Rates Among Kids. http://wilsonquarterly.com/stories/the-mystery-behind-japans-high-suicide-rates-among-kids/
The Japan Times. (2015). Child suicides tend to occur at end spring or summer school holidays: Study. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/08/19/national/social-issues/suicide-among-children-tends-occur-long-vacation-study/#.VgBVcN9VhHz
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (n.d.). Suicidal Behavior. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/what-to-look-for/suicidal-behavior/
World Health Organization. (2017). Japan turning a corner in suicide prevention. http://www.who.int/mental_health/suicide-prevention/japan_story/en/
Wright, R. (2015). Japan’s worst day for teen suicides. http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/01/asia/japan-teen-suicides/
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