Work related reasons for suicideIncreasing pressure to retain jobs by putting in more hours of overtime while taking fewer holidays and sick days is seen as the driving force behind rising suicide numbers among office workers and employees in Japan. So-called black companies are known for their precarious working conditions. In addition to forcing their employees to take on large amounts of unpaid overtime, workplace bullying, discrimination, and psychological abuse by supervisors and seniors are also common practices. Yet, even outside the realms of said corporations work-related deaths started to occur increasingly during the 1980s – the years of the Japanese Bubble Economy. Occupational sudden mortality, known as karoshi ("death by overwork") became a well-known phenomenon in Japanese society. Besides physical exhaustion, mental health issues caused by a high-pressure working environment can lead to karoshi. Suicide due to occupational stress or overwork is called karojisatsu ("overwork suicide") in Japan.
While suicides among white-collar workers are a reoccurring topic in international media coverage about working culture in Japan, most self-harm victims were registered as unemployed. In a culture, where an essential part of a person’s identity is based on contributing to society via full-time employment, having no occupation can be as detrimental to an individual’s health as persevering in a toxic workplace.
Suicide among childrenMiddle-aged men are frequently portrayed as the highest-risk group for suicides in Japan. More recently, however, self-harm among elderly and school children are recurrently picked up by the media. Financial anxiety, bullying, isolation, and the lack of a proficient mental healthcare system are only some factors blamed for contributing to Japan’s comparably high suicide rates amongst all age groups.
While overall suicide figures in Japan are decreasing, self-harm incidents among children displayed a contradicting trend over the past years. Numbers were particularly alarming among high school students, but not limited to teenagers. What drives young people into taking their own lives remains mostly unclear, yet recent data suggests that interpersonal relationships, such as family issues or bullying, as well as performance pressure are the main reasons behind rising suicide figures.
Another recent trend, likely related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, is the increasing number of suicides among women. While suicides among men continued to decline, the number of women who took their own lives has increased since the beginning of the pandemic. Causes of this development appear to include economic insecurity among women, who are more likely to be in irregular employment, and an increased burden placed on women during the period of self-isolation. This is thought to have exacerbated risk factors associated with suicide, such as family and relationship issues and domestic violence.