Japan Appoints 'Minister Of Loneliness' To Tackle Country's Rising Suicide Rates

by Valerie Williams

After seeing suicide rates in the country increase for the first time in 11 years, Japan has appointed a Minister of Loneliness to tackle the problem

Last year, suicide rates in Japan rose for the first time in 11 years, with the numbers showing women as particularly vulnerable. In fact, more people died by suicide in the country this past October than the total number of COVID-19 deaths up until that point. That’s why Japan has appointed a “Minster of Loneliness” with the goal of finding ways to reduce loneliness and isolation as the world continues to grapple with the fallout of the pandemic.

According to Insider, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga added a minister of loneliness to his Cabinet earlier this month, following the United Kingdom, which became the first country to create a similar role back in 2018. The new role is being filled by minister Tetsushi Sakamoto, who is already in charge of combating Japan’s falling birth rate and revitalizing regional economies.

Isolation is tied to an increase in suicide rates, poverty, and hikikomori, which means social recluses. The Cabinet office established a task force to try to address the issue of loneliness across other areas.

The Japan Times reports that according to preliminary figures released by the National Police Agency, 20,919 people died by suicide last year, up 750 from 2019 and marking the first year-on-year increase in 11 years. Women and younger people are making up most of the increase.

Suga is concerned that “more women are feeling lonely and prone to suicide” and tasked Sakamoto with crafting “comprehensive” policies meant to combat loneliness. However, Suga was sure to confirm that the loneliness issue is being felt by all age groups, from older folks home alone to university students no longer attending class in-person. “There are many kinds of loneliness” that need attention, he says.

Last November, The Washington Post reported that since the onset of COVID-19 and the resulting social isolation, rates of depression and anxiety in America have increased. According to federal surveys, 40 percent of Americans now struggle with at least one mental health or drug-related issue with young adults hardest hit at a rate of 75 percent. Couple that with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s alarming suicidal thoughts statistic for young adults (1 in 4 report thinking about dying by suicide within the last 30 days) and it’s clear this is a problem in our country too.

Sadly, the Post reports that since America’s monitoring of suicides is “broken and slow,” we probably won’t know the full extent of suicide rate increases amid the COVID-19 pandemic for another two years or so. However, as suicide rates globally have fallen, they’ve actually gone up every year in America since 1999, with an increase of 35 percent in the past two decades. Even with those alarming numbers, funding and prevention efforts haven’t kept pace with those of other nationwide leading causes of death.

Though the story is sad and concerning, it’s heartening to see Japan tackling the problem the very first year the rates of suicide increase. The U.S. could certainly learn from their urgent addressing of this devastating issue.