March is suicide awareness month in Japan, a time when suicides typically spike due to the stressors associated with the end of the financial year and the start of the academic year. However, 2020 saw a very different image appear in the number, age, and gender of those who sadly lost their lives to suicide. For the first time in over ten years, the number of suicides in Japan rose, with 20,919 lives lost in 2021. Moreover, the suicide rate declined in March as the initial lockdown began.
From May onwards, women aged 40 or younger began to take their lives in more significant numbers than men, with males aged 30 or younger feeling the impact later in the year from September to November. For both genders, unemployment was one of the biggest risk factors, with more women losing their jobs due to the pandemic than males. Additionally, women bore the brunt of caregiving responsibilities for children schooling at home, the elderly, and as nurses and care staff in hospitals. Women also faced greater safety issues being front line workers and reported increases in domestic violence, with divorce rates spiking in the lockdown’s early months. May also saw the start of a string of celebrity suicides that saw an increase in women of a similar age group takes their lives following each death.
The pandemic has again highlighted Japan’s gender gap in pay and gender equalities. But more importantly, as increasing evidence comes to light, women’s mental health is disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and it is costing lives. The recent 2020 Global Gender Gap Report, which ranks Japan 121 out of 153 countries and the former Olympic Committee president’s comments, highlights Japan’s need to address these disparities urgently. With March 8th being International Women’s Day, TELL will be focusing on these issues to help lead the movement for change.
Perhaps in 2021, it is more important than ever to raise awareness of mental health and gender equality issues facing Japan. This year the theme of International Women’s Day is Let’s Choose to Challenge.
All this month, TELL will be shining a spotlight on successful women in our society and how to recognise and support someone who may be struggling with a mental health issue. On April 10th and 11th, we will be holding a conference on Mental Health Disparities: Pursuing Equality in Japan. TELL will be bringing together women from a wide range of age groups, backgrounds and racial diversity to speak about the impact of COVID-19. We are thrilled to have Dr. Andrijana Cvetkovik, former Macedonian Ambassador, as the conference keynote speaker. With a strong background in paving the way for female representation on company, government organization, and education boards, Dr Cvetkovik is on the front lines of Japan’s transition to a more gender balanced society. We are looking forward to hearing her insights on creating a more gender-equal society here in Japan.
We hope you will join us as we celebrate women’s achievements, shine a spotlight on the issue of mental health and gender inequality, and discuss ways to support and encourage women around us to thrive.
From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge and strive for an inclusive society in Japan, free from suicides and gender discrimination.