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  • Jonathan Shiek

Japan Elects ‘Minister of Loneliness’ To Help People In Isolation

Covid-19 has not only been detrimental as a disease to the body but damaging for the soul. Factors such as economic hardship, stress, abuse, and extra burdens have caused Japan’s suicide rate to rise for the first time in 11 years.

The lack of social gatherings due to isolation from the pandemic has left people, especially Japanese women feeling lonely and stressed. As reported, 20,919 people died by suicide in 2020, up 3.7 percent from the previous year, with 14 percent more suicides recorded among Japanese women. 

Japan has the oldest population in the world, many of whom are single and live alone. As more and more elderly people live in one-person-households, the number of unaccompanied and undetected deaths has been on a rise. It’s estimated that by 2040, most people will live alone, and “lonely deaths” (kodokushi) has become a major public concern. Furthermore, there is an estimate of 1.15 million hermits (hikikomori), who withdraw from society, ranging from ages 15-64 in Japan. The long work hours and intense work culture can be another factor linked to the problem. 

In response, Japan has launched a designated cabinet post, hiring Tetsushi Sakamoto to oversee government efforts across multiple ministries and agencies to help alleviate the issue of loneliness and isolation. 

“I hope to promote activities that prevent loneliness and social isolation and protect the ties between people,” Tetsushi Sakamoto has said. His cabinet will also see regional revitalization, address Japan’s falling birthrate, and “work on a comprehensive approach to arrange a wide range of measures” such as coordination with the health ministry to prevent suicide. 

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Japan has the highest suicide rate in the Group of Seven (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, United States). To combat loneliness and isolation which are linked to issues such as poverty, social withdrawal, and suicide, Japan has an urgent task especially when the pandemic has seemed to further aggravate health and economic problems that have caused much of these deaths. 

#japan #mentalhealth #pandemic

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