We’re not going to say “Thanks, COVID-19,” but the pandemic seems to be indirectly saving lives too.
So in the time I’ve lived in Japan, there’s something I’ve noticed. While the trains are pretty punctual, there’s usually an increase in the number of delays on my line in spring.
The reason given for most of these delays is jinshin jiko, which literally means “personal injury,” as “in a person was struck by the train,” but it’s also the broad euphemism into which suicide attempts are classified. The reason for the spring increase isn’t hard to imagine. Spring is when both the school and business years start in Japan, and the stress and fear of going back to an emotionally painful environment, or having to start over from scratch after being forced into a new one, can lead people to a dark mental state.
Having been at home for the past several weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic, I can’t speak to the punctuality of my local rail lines, but odds are they’re running more smoothly than normal for this time of year, as Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has just announced that the number of suicides that took place in Japan during April was down nearly 20 percent compared to the same month in 2019.
According to the ministry’s statistics, 1,814 people took their lives in April of 2019. For April 2020, though, the number dropped by 19.8 percent, to 1,455 people, which is the lowest for April in at least the past five years.
Ironically, it seems to be a life-threatening disease that’s indirectly helping more people believe that life is worth living. With people sheltering in place during the coronavirus pandemic, fewer of them are commuting to their school or workplace on a daily basis. That means reduced contact with bullying classmates and coworkers, less direct interaction with unreasonable, uncaring authority figures, and shorter times spent in an atmosphere detrimental to one’s mental health. The ministry believes that the buffer from those daily pressures is having a positive effect on people who might otherwise be slipping into life-threatening depths of depression and anxiety.
You can’t hear your boss grumbling about a problem that he himself caused when you’re working from a home he’s not in.
Of course, 1,455 people taking their own lives in April is still 1,455 too many. But the downward shift is encouraging all the same, and perhaps if work/study-from-home options remain in place even after the pandemic ends, Japan will continue to see improvements in its suicide rate.
If you or someone you know is in Japan and having suicidal thoughts, there are people here to help. Click here for more info.