Japan Enacts New Guidelines To Prevent Suicide

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The Japanese government has released a new plan to reduce its suicide rate by 30 percent by 2025. The plan, which was reviewed for the first time in five years, targets Japan's long working hours and illegal overtime practices among businesses as a top contributors to the country's high suicide rate.

Suicide has long been a problem in Japan. The annual number of suicides peaked in 2003 at 34,427. In 2007, the government issued federal guidelines addressing suicide that are reviewed every five years.

The Japanese government's policies to reduce the number of people who kill themselves has been successful in lowering the suicide rate so far. According to the annual suicide report published in May, 21,897 Japanese citizens took their own lives in 2016, a 22-year low.

Still, Japan has the highest suicide rate among the G-7 advanced countries and the sixth-highest rate worldwide. The Japanese government called the situation "critical."

On July 25, the government decided to tighten its 2007 regulations -- which called for a 20 percent reduction over a decade -- to a 30 percent reduction from the 2015 rate by 2025.

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The 2015 suicide rate was 18.5 per 100,000 individuals. To reach its goal, the rate would have to drop to fewer than 13 suicides per 100,000 individuals, similar to the U.S.

A senior official from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry called the new goal "a high bar," The Japan Times reports.

One of the main problems the government aims to tackle are excessive working hours, which are believed to contribute to high suicide rate among Japanese workers.

In 2015, the government placed a 100 hour per month cap on overtime after a worker at the prominent Dentsu advertising agency took his life. According to Agence France-Presse, the young man regularly worked more than 100 hours overtime per month.

Some say the cap is still not enough. According to The Japan Times, the government is still looking to strengthen workplace conditions by reducing overtime hours, preventing harassment and promoting mental health.

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In an effort to highlight reportedly unfair work conditions, the government released a list of more than 300 companies that have been accused of illegal overtime and other violations in May. Dentsu was among the companies named.

In addition to cracking down on companies, the new guidelines will address postpartum depression and prejudice against LGBT individuals. The government said it will set up physical and mental health checkups for mothers after they give birth and establish a hotline for sexual minority harassment, The Japan Times reports.

To prevent suicide among youth, the government has said it will promote educational programs aimed at helping students seek counseling at school.  

Perhaps the biggest challenge will be to raise the Japanese public's awareness of the services that are available to them. According to a 2016 study by the Japanese health ministry, only 6.9 percent of those surveyed were aware of telephone mental health consultations, and only 5 percent were aware of Japan's suicide prevention week in September.

The same study also reported that 23.6 percent of adults had seriously thought about taking their own lives.

Although it is not clear if the government will launch a widespread awareness campaign, it acknowledged a federal responsibility to assist municipal governments in enacting measures to prevent suicides.

Sources: AFP via Straits Times, The Japan Times (2) / Photo credit: hiroo yamagata/Flickr, Danny Choo/Wikimedia Commons, Oyigoshisan/Wikimedia Commons

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