More people died by ‘suicide last month in Japan than from Covid in all of 2020’

Suicide took more lives in Japan last month than Covid-19 has done over the entire year, according to Japanese government data.

Experts have warned that the virus could cause a mental health crisis as a result of mass unemployment, social isolation, and subsequent rise in anxiety across the world.

Women in Japan have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic as female suicides in October increased by almost 83%, compared to the same month in 2019.

Worryingly their deaths still remain far fewer than men.

The monthly number of Japanese suicides rose to 2,153 in October, according to Japan's National Police Agency which is a higher total of the nation's Covid-19 toll of 2,087, the health ministry said.

As Japan is a leader in publishing suicide figures, its data could give other countries insights into the impact of pandemic measures on mental health, and who is most vulnerable.

Michiko Ueda, an associate professor at Waseda University in Tokyo, and an expert on suicides, said: "We didn't even have a lockdown, and the impact of Covid is very minimal compared to other countries … but still we see this big increase in the number of suicides.

"That suggests other countries might see a similar or even bigger increase in the number of suicides in the future."

According to the World Health Organisation, Japan has had one of the highest suicide rates in the world for years.

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Data recorded in 2016 found it had a suicide mortality rate of 18.5 per 100,000 people – compared to annual global average of 10.6 per 100,000 people.

Long working hours, school pressure, social isolation and a cultural stigma around mental health issues have all been cited as contributing factors to Japan's suicide problem.

The number of suicides had actually been decreasing for a decade in Japan with 20,000 recorded by the health ministry last year.

But this year the impact of Covid-19 appears to have reversed that trend, with October 2020 suicide deaths up by 83% for women and 22% for men.

Possible reasons for women in particular being affected include them making up a larger percentage of part-time workers in hospitality and retail where redundancies have been widespread.

Professor Ueda added: "We haven't even experienced the full economic consequences of the pandemic.

"The pandemic itself can get worse, then maybe there's a semi-lockdown again; if that happens, then the impact can be huge."

For emotional support, you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.

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