Study: Japan’s Suicide Rate Fell in Pandemic, Possibly Due to Less Work Stress

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Japan’s suicide rate has declined during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a study published Wednesday, which suggested that reduced working hours and government financial support at the height of the nation’s outbreak could have contributed to the decrease.

From February to June, the number of people in Japan who took their own lives decreased by 13.5 percent from the average for that period, according to the study.

The estimated “number of averted suicide deaths during the pandemic is 1,027 from February to June 2020 [while] the number of direct deaths from Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] is 974,” the study’s lead researcher, Shohei Okamoto, wrote in a non-peer-reviewed paper posted on medRxiv.org on Wednesday. Okamato works for the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology.

Health experts have warned of a potential global mental health crisis during the pandemic that could increase the number of suicides. They suggest people may struggle to cope with fears over the virus, distress caused by social isolation during quarantines, and anxiety over economic turmoil and loss of income.

The Japanese study’s researchers said it provided “the first large-scale evidence” on the Chinese coronavirus pandemic in relation to a nation’s suicide rate. They examined “data on suicide deaths going back four years from across the country of more than 120 million people,” according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), which reported on the findings.

The decline in Japan’s suicide deaths was most obvious among men between the ages of 20 and 69, who constitute the majority of the country’s workforce, the researchers said.

“The rate fell 12 percent from February to June from the average for that time,” according to the report.

The study found that Japan’s suicide rate dropped overall when the nation was under a government-mandated state of emergency due to the coronavirus and when schools were forced to close.

A less significant change in Japan’s female suicide rate — which decreased about seven percent from the average — could be due to women being more likely than men to lose their jobs during the pandemic. Women in Japan are also more likely to take on greater household tasks and to suffer domestic violence during the pandemic, the researchers said.

“Japan has the highest suicide rate among the Group of Seven countries [an economic bloc of seven major developed nations], 16 per 100,000 people,” the Japan Times reported in June. The island nation also has the world’s highest life expectancy of more than 84 years.

“Previous studies have found that stress caused by overwork and isolation were among the risk factors for suicide in the country,” according to the report.

According to the new study, “the pandemic has reduced working hours in Japan by 10 to 20 percent. In addition, every citizen has received a payment of 100,000 yen (about $940), companies have received subsidies and there was a 50 percent drop in the number of bankruptcies filed in May compared to the pre-pandemic period.” All of these factors could have contributed to a general reduction in stress and financial pressure for Japanese, which in turn may have led to the fall in suicide rates, the researchers said.

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