Officials in Japan have appointed a ‘Minister of Loneliness’ after suicide rates increased in the country for the first time in 11 years.
Minister Tetsushi Sakamoto, who is already responsible for dealing with Japan’s declining birthrate and promoting regional revitalisation, was appointed to the new position by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga this month.
Sakamoto will be in charge of overseeing government policies to deal with loneliness and isolation in an effort to reduce the negative feelings among residents.
The move comes following a rise in suicides during the coronavirus pandemic, through which people have been restricted from seeing loved ones and having in-person social interactions.
In October alone, more people died by suicide than the total number of people who had lost their lives to coronavirus in Japan at that point in the year.
According to the Japanese National Police Agency, per Insider, 2,153 people died by suicide in October compared to a total of 1,765 total virus deaths from the beginning of the outbreak up to the end of October 2020. Japan saw a surge in coronavirus cases in December and has now recorded more than 7,500 coronavirus deaths.
While male suicides fell slightly, the suicide rates among women surged nearly 15%, contributing to the overall increase. In October 2020, 879 women died by suicide in Japan – a 70% increase compared to the same month in 2019.
In a news conference announcing the role of the Minister of Loneliness, Prime Minister Suga told Sakamoto, ‘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.’
Michiko Ueda, a Japanese professor who studies suicide in Japan, noted that the country has seen a large rise in single women living alone, but many of them don’t have stable employment.
Speaking to the BBC, she explained:
A lot of women are not married anymore. 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. The number of job losses among non-permanent staff are just so, so large over the last eight months.
After being appointed, Sakamoto plans to hold an emergency forum to hear concerns from people dealing with loneliness and isolation. He expressed his hopes to ‘carry out activities to prevent social loneliness and isolation and to protect ties between people’, and will discuss support measures for those who are affected.
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