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article imageSuicide in Japan on the rise after Fukushima disaster

By Lynn Herrmann     Jul 6, 2011 in Health
Tokyo - Japan’s Fukusima nuclear meltdown, result of a catastrophic earthquake, tsunami, and human error, is leading to yet another meltdown of sorts as new data has begun showing the region is experiencing an alarming rise in suicides.
Adding to the country’s woes, an increase of suicides in the Fukushima region since the nuclear meltdown occurred is being reported. Reasons for the suicides range from loss of family members as a result of the tsunami to loss of livelihoods due to radiation contamination to long-term mental health impacts as a result of the nuclear meltdown.
In March, after the disaster struck, a cabbage farmer in Fukushima prefecture took his life after an overwhelming feeling of loss. Speaking to reporters, the man’s daughter said: “We have no idea how long this situation will continue. What will become of us? I think everyone involved in agriculture is worried. I pray there will be no more victims like my father,” the Los Angeles Times noted.
After shipment of raw milk was halted in Fukushima Prefecture, a dairy farmer in Soma, having already culled his herd of cows, chose what he saw as the only option left. “If only there wasn’t a nuclear power plant” he scrawled in chalk on his cattle shed., according to the Japan Times. The reference was to the Daiichi nuclear facility located just 45 km away.
His final words, written on the shed, added: “I have lost the energy to carry on working.” The man’s death, a direct result of the overwhelmed feeling many in the region share, could be part of a trend likely to grow in coming months.
In Iwate Prefecture’s Kamaishi, municipal official Hideki Yamazaki said the slow government response and extended stays in evacuation shelters for those impacted by the disaster may lead to even more adverse situations for people.
“We are trying to move people to temporary homes as quickly as possible, but there is a concern that the sudden transfer from community- to individual-based living could have even more dire consequences,” Yamazaki said, the Japan Times reports.
Adding to the rising suicide rates are feelings of guilt many survivors are feeling. Officials note survivors who lost family members in the disaster and were then forced to identify their bodies afterwards are at risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “PTSD itself is directly connected with suicide, but it has been shown that when it overlaps with depression, the chance of suicide rises significantly,” said Yoshinari Cho, director of Teikyo University Hospital’s psychiatry department in Kanagawa Prefecture, the Times noted.
Japan’s suicide rate, already one of the highest in the developed world, saw a 2-year high in May, the country’s National Police Agency said in a report, according to CNN. Among the figures, Tokyo saw the highest number in May, 325 suicides. The hardest hit region by the nuclear disaster, Fukushima, saw 68 suicides in May, 19 more than in May 2010.
Overall, the report shows Japan suicides in May 2011 totaled 3,281, an increase of almost 20 percent from the same month a year earlier.
Counseling, seen as an integral form of depression treatment in the western world, is looked upon with wary eyes by the Japanese, according to one health official there. “Japan is way behind the West when it comes to psychiatric care,” said Sen Hiraizumi, director of Iwate Prefectural Hospital, located in Yamada. “In Yamada, for example, we have never even had a psychiatry clinic. People just don't tend to talk about stress or depression.”
An attitude of self-sacrifice and uncomplaining manner among people in northern Japan could very well lead to even more suicides. “Tohoku people are notoriously stoic and self-sacrificing, and the chances of them seeking counseling is low,” Cho said in the Times report.
After Asia’s financial crisis in 1997, suicide rates in Japan soared, reaching an annual rate of 30,000 for 13 consecutive years. March, the end of Japan’s fiscal year, is typically the month with highest suicide rates.
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