suicide, suicides in China, rise of suicide

Japanese Suicide Hotlines Overburdened in Economic Crisis

January 08, 2009 01:31 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Japan's telephone hotlines for those considering suicide are struggling, in a country with one of the the highest suicide rates in the world.

National Hotlines Understaffed

There are more than 30,000 suicides per year in Japan, where a national suicide hotline staffed by about 7,000 volunteers deals with about 700,000 telephone calls annually.

"We don't have enough volunteers," said Yukio Saito, head of the Telephone Lifeline association, to the Australian Associated Press. "I'm afraid that there will be a rise in suicides with the economic recession."

Japan has seen a rise in suicide rates, to the tune of 5 percent per year for the last 10 years. The Internet is contributing to the trend, Atlantic Monthly’s David Samuels wrote in a 2007 article.

“Once online, it is easy for such groups to attract new members from the free-floating population of lonely, curious, or dissatisfied souls who exist in all times and places, and in all cultures,” Samuels writes. “Vulnerable and unstable members of society are socialized into virtual communities whose shared vocabulary and values become an antidote to loneliness, even as they propel their members toward death.” The BBC reported in 2004 that Internet suicide clubs were growing in Japan, with the rise of specially designed suicide chat rooms to discover partners or groups with whom to take their own lives.

Background: Suicide elsewhere in East Asia

Suicide rates in China have also skyrocketed and are among the highest in the world as its citizens struggle to adjust to rapid economic reform that has led to massive societal upheaval.

Last month, Chinese state media reported that a two-year-old boy in the southwest China city of Chongzhou became an orphan after both of his parents committed suicide by drinking pesticide, after a fight. The tragic incident is just one of many, as Agence France-Presse reports that every two minutes, someone in China commits suicide. With 250,000-300,000 suicides a year, China accounts for about a quarter of all suicides globally.

Most attribute the problem to the fact that the Middle Kingdom’s 1.3 billion citizens are feeling the side effects of three decades of reforms, which have created a society increasingly devoted to profit and individualism. Meanwhile, the traditional family structure has broken down, and psychological problems are mounting.

“People have become more fragile,” said Zhang Chun, the head of a suicide prevention network in Nanjing, to AFP.

A report released earlier this year by the Chinese Association for Mental Health found that Chinese youth are particularly susceptible to suicide, as it is now the leading cause of death for those between 15 and 34. Some schools in Shanghai began having their students fill out mental health questionnaires after three students tried to commit suicide in the beginning of September.
In nearby South Korea, authorities are cracking down on cyberbullying following the high-profile suicide of actress Choi Jin-sil in October. The actress had been subject to false rumors on the Internet linking her to another actor’s suicide the month before. Her death also came a year after singer Yoo Na committed suicide after cyberbullying related to her plastic surgery.

A findingDulcinea article on intense academic pressure in South Korea mentioned that suicide in South Korea increased by 90.8 percent between 1997 and 2007, and 60 percent of all suicides occur in Asia, according to New American Media blog writer Peter Schurmann, who cites a Korea Times report. “In Korea, and much of Asia, there’s this notion of face. That maybe it’s better to take one’s life than bring shame on oneself and one’s family,” Schurmann says, although he also notes that suicide should not be used inappropriately to “essentialize Asian culture.” “I’ve known several families affected by suicide, Asian and Western, and they’ve all been devastated by it,” he says.

Reference: International suicide statistics

The World Health Organization reports that each year, about 1 million people commit suicide—16 people per 100,000 globally. One death by suicide occurs every 40 seconds, a rate that is expected to increase to 1 every 20 seconds by 2020. Suicide rates have increased by 60 percent worldwide in the past 45 years and is now one of the top three causes of death for those aged 15-44, both male and female.

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