Despite noticeably decreasing suicide numbers in recent years, Japan
still has one of the highest suicide rates among high-income OECD countries. In 2017, there were 16.8 suicides committed per 100,000 inhabitants in Japan. However, suicide numbers peaked in 2009, when the country experienced its worst recession since World War II. That same year, the suicide rate surged to 25.7 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants and almost 33 thousand victims in total.
Historically, Japan’s high suicide rates are closely linked to the economic situation of the individuals. While the majority of suicides
in Japan stemmed from health reasons, existential worries accounted for nearly 3,500 deaths in 2017. A further 1,991 suicides were directly related to problems at work.
According to a report published by the National Police Agency
and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the biggest issue faced by employees in Japan leading to self-harm was exhaustion, taking almost 570 lives in 2017. That same year, 481 work-related suicides were attributed to interpersonal problems, followed by failures at work with 353 self-inflicted deaths.
The increasing pressure of retaining jobs by putting in more hours of overtime, while taking fewer holidays and sick days are seen as the main motivators behind the rising suicide numbers among office workers and employees. Occupational sudden mortality, known as karoshi ("death by overwork") is a well-known phenomenon in Japanese society. Besides physical pressure, mental stress from the workplace can cause karoshi. Suicide due to occupational stress or overwork is called karojisatsu ("overwork suicide") in Japan.
While middle-aged men are frequently portrayed as the highest-risk group for suicide in Japan, suicides among elderly and school children are recurrently picked up by media, with financial anxiety, bullying, isolation and the lack of a proficient mental healthcare system being only some of the factors blamed for contributing to Japan’s high suicide rates amongst all age groups.