In a bid to tackle mental health issues in Japan, the government has recently appointed Tetsushi Sakamoto as the minister in charge of dealing with problems of isolation and loneliness. The initiative was made after Japan saw a spike in suicide rates for the first time in 11 years.
Sakamoto, who joined the Suga Cabinet in 2020, is also in charge of reversing the declining birth rate. With this additional responsibility, he has now been dubbed the ‘Minister of Loneliness’ since he was appointed on February 12.
In an Asahi Shimbun report, Sakamoto stressed the importance of distinguishing between loneliness and isolation. According to the newspaper, Prime Minister Suga instructed Sakamoto to work with the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare on creating policies for better social welfare. The alarming rise in suicides – particularly among women – was attributed to Covid-19.
It goes without saying that mental health issues were a pressing concern even before the pandemic hit, but job losses, social distancing protocols and other restrictions that put a halt to our normal social life have made it all the more difficult to fight feelings of hopelessness in these trying times. According to Nikkei, the number of suicide cases in Japan jumped by 3.7 percent in 2020 to a total of 20,919 deaths. Based on a recent report by The Japan Times, this is more than three times the number of people who died from Covid-19 in Japan in the same year.
Sakamoto has yet to disclose any measures to tackle the situation, but the minister is due to attend a forum alongside PM Suga to discuss the issues by the end of the month.
If you are in Japan and struggling to cope with your mental health, there are a number of free English helplines available should you need to reach out. In addition, here is a directory of mental health counsellors and psychologists who are licensed to practice in Japan – services are available in several languages.
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