Since the economy took a downturn two years ago, suicide rates have been on the rise. In 2008 rates began increasing in the US for the first time in 10 years and the UK is seeing the same trend. But suicide rates in Japan have been the highest among developed countries — the fourth highest in the world — for years.
Japan's financial crisis of the '90s explains a lot, but not why the Japanese are more likely to take their lives than people facing similar hardships in different countries. First, there's no Judeo-Christian stigma of sin associated with suicide. In fact, historically, it's been seen as a morally responsible action with its own name — honor suicide. Although the association is disappearing, it's still romanticized as noble among many elders and traditionalists.
The government wants to help, but the Japanese people aren't always willing to ask for it. The Japan Times reported the country's largest suicide hotline struggles to stay afloat. It can't attract donors while its 300 volunteers only take 27,000 callers per year — far less than the 2.4 million phone calls the UK's largest suicide hotline answers with a smaller population.
While it's easy to confuse the myths and facts surrounding suicide, one thing is becoming apparent: as suicide rates grow among young professionals in Japan, the country needs an all-out campaign to destigmatize asking for help.