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Japan suicides rise as economic impact of coronavirus hits home

by Reuters
Tuesday, 10 November 2020 09:40 GMT

Director of the Tokyo Befrienders call center, a Tokyo's suicide hotline center, and a volunteer handle an incoming call at the center during the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tokyo, Japan May 26, 2020. Picture taken May 26, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato

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The number of suicides in Japan have risen to the highest level in five years, particularly among women who have been disproportionately affected by coronavirus job losses

TOKYO, Nov 10 (Reuters) - The number of suicides in Japan rose in October for the fourth month in a row to the highest level in more than five years, data showed on Tuesday, a trend activists have blamed on the economic impact of the coronavirus, on women in particular.

According to preliminary police data, the total number of suicides for October was 2,153, an increase of more than 300 from the previous month and the highest monthly tally since May 2015.

Of October's cases, 851 were women, a rise of 82.6% over the same month in 2019. The number of suicides by men rose 21.3%.

Cases of suicide had been falling steadily until July but then the economic impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak hit home and the numbers started rising, activists say.

Women, who are more likely to be in non-permanent employment in the retail or service industries, have been disproportionately affected by job losses.

Through the ages in Japan, suicide has been a way to avoid shame or dishonour.

For many years getting psychological help was stigmatized and Japan has the grim distinction of the highest suicide rate among G7 countries.

But when suicides hit a peak of 34,427 in 2003, alarmed policymakers drew up a comprehensive prevention programme launched in 2007.

Through a combination of government and corporate efforts that included identifying at-risk groups, capping overtime and making it easier to get counselling, suicides decreased to just over 20,000 last year.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies)