Japan creates 'Minister of Loneliness' government role to combat rising suicide rate

Written on 02/23/2021
Ciarán Mather

Japan's Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, has announced the appointment of politician Tetsushi Sakamoto as the country's first ever Minister of Loneliness.

The move echoes the UK's decision to appoint a loneliness minister in 2018, following a 2017 report which found that more than nine million people in the UK said they often or always felt lonely. 

Mr. Sakamoto, who is already the minister in charge of dealing with Japan's declining birth-rate and promoting regional revitalization, will now oversee government policies to deal with loneliness and isolation.

Speaking at a news conference, Prime Minister Suga said: 'Women are suffering from isolation more (than men are), and the number of suicides is on a rising trend.'

'I hope you will identify problems and promote policy measures comprehensively.'

Sakamoto's appointment came after the nation's suicide rate increased for the first time in 11 years, with many believing that the rise maybe spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In October, more people died from suicide than from COVID-19 in Japan throughout the entirety of 2020: there were 2,153 suicide deaths that month — 879 of which were women — while there were 1,765 total virus deaths up to the end of October 2020, according to the Japanese National Police Agency. 

Japan has numerous well-documented cases of young men becoming reclusive, with the phenomenon being dubbed 'Hikikomori.'

Experts believe that over half a million young men in the country follow a 'Hikikomori' lifestyle.

In addition, Michiko Ueda, a Japanese professor who studies suicide in Japan, told the BBC last week that more and more single women now live alone in the country, and many of them don't have stable employment.

If you are experiencing feeling of loneliness, depression or suicidal thoughts you can contact the following resources:

  • Alone: 0818 222 024 or email hello@alone.ie

  • Aware: 1800 804 848 or supportmail@aware.ie

  • COVID-19 Senior Helpline: 1800 804 591

  • Samaritans Ireland: jo@samaritans.ie or call 116 123

  • Pieta House: Text HELP to 51444 or call 1800 247 247

  • Jigsaw: 01 472 7010 or help@jigsaw.ie

Help is out there if you need it and there is always someone available to listen.