Covid and suicide: Japan's rise a warning to the world?

BBC -- Feb 19
Japan reports suicides faster and more accurately than anywhere else in the world. Unlike most countries, here they are compiled at the end of every month. During the Covid pandemic the numbers have told a disturbing story.

In 2020, for the first time in 11 years, suicide rates in Japan went up. Most surprising, while male suicides fell slightly, rates among women jumped nearly 15%.

In one month, October, the female suicide rate in Japan leaped by more than 70%, compared with the same month in the previous year.

What is going on? And why does the Covid pandemic appear to be hitting women so much worse than men?

If you look at previous times of crisis in Japan, such as the 2008 banking crisis or the collapse of Japan's stock market and property bubble in the early 1990s, the impact was largely felt by middle aged men. Large spikes were seen in male suicide rates.

But Covid is different, it is affecting young people and, in particular, young women. The reasons are complex.

Japan used to have the highest suicide rate in the developed world. Over the last decade it has had great success in reducing suicide rates by around a third.

Japan has seen a large rise in single women living alone, many of them choosing that over marriage which entails quite traditional gender roles still. Prof Ueda says young women are also far more likely to be in so-called precarious employment.

One month really stands out. In October last year, 879 women killed themselves. That is more than 70% higher than the same month in 2019.

The celebrity phenomenon

This phenomenon is not unique to Japan, and it is one reason why reporting on suicide is so difficult. In the immediate aftermath of a celebrity suicide, the more it is discussed in the media, and on social media, the greater the impact on other vulnerable people.