Young, single, at risk – how the virus drives young Japanese women to suicide
Japan has managed to reduce the high number of suicides for ten years. But then the pandemic came and suicides picked up again. But not with the “typical” group of medieval men, but with women. Young women.
The fog that envelops everything in which the coronavirus has enveloped the world is only slowly lifting: Who is contagious for how long? Why do some get seriously ill and others hardly. Will the mutations trigger a third, fourth and even fifth wave? And of course: How severe are the effects of the protective measures and who do they hit particularly badly? The latter is already well documented – as is so often the case, it is those who already have little: people in mini-jobs, welfare recipients, old people.
This is not much different in Japan than in Germany or Argentina. But in Japan another group of victims has been added: women. Young women. And not because they get physically ill more often, at least not primarily, but psychologically. Last October, 70 percent more Japanese women committed suicide than in 2019. “This pattern is very, very unusual,” said Michiko Ueda, the country’s leading suicide researcher, on the British broadcaster BBC.
No other country in the world records the number of suicides as meticulously as Japan. The reason is as simple as it is shocking, because hardly any other industrialized country has a higher suicide rate – even if it has recently fallen significantly. The Corona year 2020, however, was the first in ten years in which the number of suicides has increased again. 21,000 cases were counted, an increase of 3.7 percent, as the Ministry of Health announced in January.
That especially young women, students and school students are affected, “must be related to Covid 19,” writes Haruka Sakamoto from Tokyo University in a study on suicides during the corona pandemic. Because when the number of suicides increases, it is mainly due to middle-aged men, says Sakamoto. This was particularly noticeable during the “Lehman shock” in 2008, when the financial crisis broke out and men in their 50s fell into depression.
The reasons for the sharp increase among young women are numerous. The BBC reports about a 19-year-old prostitute from Yokohama who was abused by her own brother and who at some point fled from home. She says she made several suicide attempts in the past year. “I wasn’t successful, so I gave up dying.” She was helped by the Bond project, which supports those at risk of suicide. Its founder Jun Tachibana said that Covid continues to marginalize those who are already vulnerable.
Affected women in precarious jobs
Basically all women are affected, especially those in service jobs. The pandemic is particularly hard on tourism, retail and gastronomy, all of which are economic sectors with an above-average number of precarious jobs. Even when the economy was booming, they provided a sufficient livelihood, but “if something happens, people with irregular employment are particularly hard hit,” says Michiko Ueda.
A specialty in Japan is the slow but noticeable dissolution of traditional gender roles. While marriage to a single-earning man was not so long ago the usual but above all the socially expected model of life, women are increasingly choosing against this path. But that also means: “You are on your own, you have no permanent job,” says Ueda. This situation throws quite a few off track, especially since younger women often do not know who to turn to, writes Sakamoto in his study. Because this kind of social decline is still often “punished” in Japan with social ostracism.
Society begins to listen
It is also particularly bitter that suicides among young people in pre-Corona times were often associated with entering new phases of life. Start of studies, start or change of job. The era in which the Japanese literally worked their way to death is slowly coming to an end, but the still high number of suicides is still closely linked to stress at work, according to Haruka Sakamoto.
But help is in sight. Because although the number of suicides is increasing again due to the pandemic, the fundamental problem has seeped into the consciousness of employers and the public. “Employees, for example, can ask their bosses for time off,” as Sakamoto writes. And organizations like the Bond Project take care of suicidal women. “We are here, we listen and make it clear to them that we are there for them,” said Bond boss Jun Tachibana.
Swell: “Japan Times”, BBC, Open Access Goverment, AK Leben, “Financial Times”, “Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung”
Do you have suicidal thoughts? Help is offered by telephone counseling. It is anonymous, free and available around the clock at 0 800/111 0 111 and 0 800/111 0 222. Advice via email is also possible. A list of nationwide aid centers can be found on the website of the German Society for Suicide Prevention.
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Corona young single risk virus drives young Japanese women suicide