The yearly suicide rate for Japanese schoolchildren surged to 479 in 2020, the highest figure recorded since Japan began keeping records of the statistic in 1980, Japan’s education ministry revealed Monday.
The number of juvenile suicides in Japan increased by 40 percent in 2020 compared to the previous year. Suicides spiked in the months immediately after schools resumed classes following long-term closures due to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, according to a provisional report released by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology.
“Fourteen of the suicides were elementary school pupils, up by eight from the previous year, while 136 were junior high school students, an increase of 40, and 329 were senior high school students, up by 92,” according to the report.
“By month, suicides increased year on year by 24 to 45 in June, by 35 to 64 in August, by 11 to 53 in September, and by 25 to 48 in November,” the Asahi Shimbun reported. Of the senior high school students who committed suicide, “191 were male, up by 21 from the previous year, while suicides among females doubled by 71 to 138.”
Concerns over career prospects were reportedly the cause of at least 55 suicides. Poor academic performance was a likely cause of suicide in 52 additional cases. Both reasons are commonly cited for suicide in Japan during conventional years, as the country prizes strong academic and professional achievement. Many of the students who took their lives in 2020 were “suffering from depression and other mental illnesses,” according to the report.
Japan’s education ministry held a panel meeting on February 15 to discuss suicide prevention measures moving forward. The ministry said it plans to distribute tablet computers to all elementary and junior high school students in the country to allow authorities to more closely monitor students’ mental health.
“(The tablets) can be used to monitor changes in students as they spend longer periods at home, as well as to conduct surveys and check on their stress levels,” a panel member said. “They will play a large role in preventing suicides.”
The ministry operates a toll-free suicide helpline in Japan for troubled youth and said it will reinforce efforts to publicize the line. It is also preparing to launch a social media platform to better support students’ mental health through their smartphones.
Overall suicide rates in Japan increased 16 percent year on year from July to October 2020. The three-month period coincided with Japan’s second-wave of Chinese coronavirus outbreaks, according to a study by researchers at Tokyo’s Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology and Hong Kong University published on January 15.
“People worry about COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus]. But a lot of people have also committed suicide because they have lost their jobs, they have lost their income and couldn’t see the hope,” Japan’s administrative and regulatory reform minister, Kono Taro, told Reuters on January 14.