For several years, Japan had succeeded in bringing down the suicide rate among its population.

But with the Covid-19 pandemic, the statistics are on the rise.

So much so that the government has just put in place a new ministerial portfolio "to fight against loneliness and isolation".


Almost everywhere in the world, the Covid-19 pandemic is increasing isolation.

Confinements, curfews, closing bars or restaurants… the virus undeniably complicates our social life and can lead to a significant withdrawal into oneself.

So much so that in Japan, a "minister of solitude" has just been appointed to try to support a population affected by confinements and bereaved by a very worrying explosion in the number of suicides.

On February 12, Tetsushi Sakamoto, already a member of the government, was given a new assignment.

He was named "Minister in charge of the policy of fight against loneliness and isolation".

He has not yet announced concrete measures, but his initial observation is this: "The social bond has been terribly weakened in Japan. It does not date from yesterday, but the pandemic has made it even worse by severely restricting our possibilities to socialize. "

60 suicides every day in 2020

This ministry was created just after the publication of alarming statistics on suicide: in 2020, 20,919 Japanese took their own lives.

This is 750 more than in 2019, or about 60 suicides every day.

However, contrary to a fairly widespread idea abroad, Japan is not the country in the world where people commit suicide the most.

It has been for a long time, but since 2010 the number of suicides has been decreasing year by year.

In 2016, it was in 14th place among the countries most bereaved by suicide, according to WHO figures.

But the appearance of the virus once again caused statistics to soar.

So much so that in Japan, suicide has killed six times as many people as the coronavirus.

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During the first wave, a year ago, the Japanese had rather held the shock.

But when the second wave broke, from the summer, many broke down.

In some months, the country recorded 40% increases in the number of suicides compared to the previous year.

There was also a "delay effect", a phenomenon that had already occurred at the time of the 2011 tsunami. "After the Fukushima disaster, the Japanese had held up morally, at first. But six months later , the suicide rate began to soar. Then, for a very long time, it remained at an extremely high level. This worrying phenomenon is recurring, '' reminds Europe 1 an official of '' a suicide prevention association

In Japan, suicide particularly affects young people

Among all these Japanese who are ending their own days, there are a lot of young people.

And sometimes even children.

The number of underage suicides has doubled compared to last year.

Each week, around ten children or teenagers end their life in the country.

The pandemic has worsened what was a sad peculiarity of Japan: it is the only industrialized country where the main cause of death for young people is not road accidents but suicide.

A study on the physical and mental health of children conducted by Unicef ​​in 38 countries showed that while Japanese children are the world champions when it comes to physical condition, many feel very bad about themselves.

In terms of mental health, they are second to last in this ranking - only New Zealand does worse.


I walled myself in silence and my stress.


This discomfort has made many young people fall into depression, and some do not hide their suicidal thoughts.

"I was paralyzed at the idea of ​​catching this virus and devastated to see how this epidemic disrupted my first year of university," says a 19-year-old student, who moved to Tokyo in 2020 to be able to go to college. He didn't know anyone in the capital but hoped to make friends at university. The virus and the health restrictions decided otherwise. "I didn't dare tell other students.

Everyone has so many worries right now.

I was afraid that it would be taken badly, that I would add more by unpacking my moods, "he explains.

"I walled myself in silence and my stress. I hardly left my house any more. Anyway, I didn't know anyone and, I was convinced, no one could help me. I stopped. to take online courses and I fled by taking refuge in a parallel reality: that of video games. All day and night, "continues this young Tokyoite.

"But a sort of dizziness finally seized me. My life - this life of loneliness and anguish - made no sense: it was better to end it. I saw no other way out, I was so emotionally devastated. ''. 

The "Gongbang": filming yourself revising, a phenomenon on the rise among students

Consequence of the distance courses: the explosion of "Gongbang", a trend that came from South Korea but which has spread to China, Japan and even the West, in the United States for example.

These are students who film themselves, at home, live, revising.

Most of the time it's a simple still shot: you just hear the pages turn and it lasts for hours.

But these videos are seen by thousands of other students who say they feel less alone this way, almost as if they were in the library.

Women, also hit hard

Apart from young people, women are also particularly exposed to the risk of suicide.

Last year, five times as many Japanese women as Japanese died.

Notably because with the crisis, it is mainly women who have lost their jobs in Japan.

And in this country which makes work sacred, this is often seen as losing its reason for living.

Two million precarious jobs have been cut in the country since the start of the epidemic, in hotels, restaurants, events, etc.

Jobs that were mostly held by women.

However, these odd jobs rarely give entitlement to unemployment benefits when they are lost, so many have found themselves destitute and desperate. 

Even before the start of the epidemic, isolation was a recurring problem in the archipelago.

Japan is the country of '' hikikomoris '', these people suffering from social phobia to the point of never leaving their homes, therefore of not seeing anyone.

There are over a million of them.

More generally, one in seven Japanese lives alone, ie 18 million people, many of them seniors.

And according to surveys, one in seven single seniors only talks to someone once every two weeks.

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The painstaking work of associations

Especially since the culture of the "unspoken" complicates the care of people with psychological suffering.

Talking about yourself is difficult in Japan.

The individual is always asked to step aside in front of the collective ", explains an association worker." In addition, in this country, the nervous breakdown is often associated with weakness.

In fact, it is society's view of mental health that should change. '

There are, however, many suicide prevention associations in Japan, which notably carry out monitoring and intervention work on social networks.

Because since the start of the epidemic, there have been 4,000 messages posted on these networks every day, saying "I would like to die".

The associations track down these calls for help on the networks 24 hours a day and respond immediately: they start a dialogue with these suicidal people to prevent them from taking action.

On the other hand, psychological support before the suicide attempt, that is to say during a depression, works less well.

Very reputable institutions take care of young people on the verge of falling into isolation or into addictive behavior - video games for example.

But these hospitals are so few that the waiting lists are endless.

Above all, this psychological support is quite expensive in Japan, including in the hospital, and social security rarely reimburses this follow-up which it considers to be "comfort care".

This expression alone says a lot about the progress that remains to be made in terms of mental health care.