Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world for a developed nation. Although the country was making great progress lowering the number of suicides in the past 10 years, last year saw a rise in suicides due to the pandemic. To combat this, Japan has implemented a “minister of loneliness” to help people struggling with being alone, reports Nikkei Asia. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga appointed Tetsushi Sakamoto for the job on Friday.
“I hope to promote activities that prevent loneliness and social isolation and protect the ties between people,” Sakamoto told reporters.
Sakamoto is tasked with assembling a team that will coordinate across multiple agencies to try to alleviate the suicide problem. Additionally, he will host a forum with advocacy groups to set priorities in order.
Suga noted that women in Japan were especially hard hit emotionally during the pandemic.
“Women especially are feeling more isolated and face increasing suicide rates,” Suga told Sakamoto. “I’d like you to examine the issued and put forward a comprehensive strategy.”
Suicides by women rose for the first time in two years last year. Suicides by children and teenagers also increased for the first time since 1980 last year. Men, however, saw a decline in suicides last year.
Isolation and the economic toll of the pandemic led to 20,919 suicides in Japan last year. This was 750 more than the previous year.
There is no specific set of measures to combat suicide in Japan for now but it’s possible the country will use a similar game plan as the U.K. The U.K. also has a minister of loneliness and they published their findings in 2018 called the “Loneliness Strategy.”