More than 400 Japanese students, from elementary to high school, committed suicide in 2020, the country’s education ministry said.
Driving the news: The record-high rate was revealed through a survey by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), which called it an “extremely disturbing result.” While reasons for committing suicide remain largely unchanged, school closures and increased stresses at home as a result of COVID-19 are believed to have caused the spike.
- The survey found that 415 students in elementary, junior high and high school killed themselves in the past year. This number is up from the 98 suicides in 2019. It is the highest figure recorded since 1974, when the ministry started tracking suicide rates.
- “Activities at school as a ‘place of salvation,’ such as communication with friends and teachers, were restricted due to the new coronavirus. Opportunities for consultation and resolution of concerns were lost,” a representative from the ministry said, according to Nikkei.
- As students spent more time at home, many of the suicides are believed to have been caused by family issues. “The stress that adults experience due to the new coronavirus may have been directed at children,” the ministry said, according to The Mainichi Shimbun.
- With 53 reports, “family discord” topped the students’ list of reasons for committing suicide, followed by “mental disorder” (46), “school problems” (44) and “rebuke of parents, etc.” (33). The majority of 218 deaths have “unknown” causes, the Mainichi noted.
The big picture: Japan’s suicide rate has long topped the Group of Seven nations, Reuters noted. But while national efforts managed to curb numbers in recent years, COVID-19 set the country back, pushing those who are already vulnerable closer to the edge.
- In 2020, Japan’s suicide rates rose for the first time in 11 years, according to the BBC. This was largely driven by cases among young women.
- October 2020 alone saw 879 women kill themselves, which was 70% higher than the same month in 2019. The month’s total suicide count (2,199) even exceeded all COVID-19 deaths in the country up to that point (2,087).
- The education ministry has devised interventions for suicide prevention among students. A key component of these measures is accessibility.
- “We must continue to support children,” Satomi Takahashi, a researcher on children’s mental health, told NHK. “It is important to create a system where they can talk directly, such as a place where they can talk about their feelings.”
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