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Hikikomori- The people who choose to live in extreme isolation

JAPAN|

We do live in a busy world surrounded by stress and various kinds of pressures that we may want to run away from! A known fact is that when you take short-lived periods of withdrawal, it helps you reduce your stress responses and overcome any illness.When you take time out for yourself in isolation, it also enables you to connect with your inner self contributing to critical phases of development.

Having said this, it is also essential to know that some people do not recover even after isolating themselves; in fact, they may show extreme and persistent withdrawal lasting for decades, causing distress to themselves and those who care for and support them.

Well, you will be surprised to know that this pattern of behavior is typical in Japan and known as “hikikomori.” This problem among the youth of Japan started back in the 1990’s.Problems with extreme social withdrawal in Japanese youth first gained attention during the 1990s. In this period, Japan was faced with an “ice age” due to which the youth could not achieve their goals.

The youth had varying responses to this, like hiding away, while some did not react. The word Hikikomori was coined in 1998 by Japanese psychiatrist Professor Tamaki Saito. He chose this term to Saito chose term to describe the many young people he saw who did not show any signs of poor mental health, but at the same time, we’re in a state of extreme, distressing withdrawal.

Hikikomori is currently considered as a sociocultural mental health phenomenon rather than a mental illness. The fact is that about 1.2% of Japan’s population is affected by it. Further, it is increasingly on other countries too! This term has now become global.In Hikikomori, a person either physically isolates themselves in their home for at least six months with no social interactions or suffers from distress and functional impairment.

So they undergo not only physical isolation but social isolation too. They are not able to attend school, college, etc., due to the social interactions involved. They remain socially disconnected from everyone whether they are outside their house or not. There is a section of people in Hikikomori called Soto-Komori. This kind of people can manage some activities outside. However, they will rarely interact with people. As an outlet, they may explore the internet but have no personal social interactions with others.

Shame and trauma
The trigger found for these isolation needs of the youth is traumatic experiences of shame and defeat across cultures as per research like failing in exams or not securing a wanted job. Hikikomori people want to avoid re-traumatization. They opt-out of the “normal” pathway set out for them by society to do this.

Research conducted on the French hikikomori population and others showed that although they do not want to interact with society and want society to forget them, in reality, they cannot and will not forget the world they left behind. Experts are now beginning to see the possible connection of Hikikomori’s with autism, depression, social anxiety, and agoraphobia.

Many Hikikomori connecting with the world using the internet.A hikikomori person not only affects oneself but also the lives of their family. Their needs have to be met by their parents for a long due to this condition of theirs. Mental health, educational and social care services are too often focused on responding to more dramatic problems. Due to this, the family ends up feeling stuck and isolated.

As Hikikomori increases all across the globe, the prevalence of the condition is also likely to rise. There is a need for better treatment options. Currently, the treatments are focused on physical activity, rebuilding the capacity for social interactions, and the desire to go back to school or work. Whole family therapy is also be considered.

A significant part of their recovery is also helping hikikomori people express their abilities and talents in a socially acceptable way.This lifestyle choice has been seen in times of Covid, where each of us had to isolate ourselves at home to keep safe but connected to the world through the internet. An important point to consider is that the fear of infection, job loss, and social disruption due to lockdown rules could also increase the risk of social withdrawal and detachment for many people.

We need to focus on creating awareness about the potential rise in extreme and persistent social withdrawal during the pandemic. Many people are feeling depressed, hopeless owing to the situation. People have lost their jobs, and they are withdrawing themselves owing to shame. This situation will worsen if we don’t do something about the current situation to improve people’s lives and situations.

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