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Faltering economy drives suicide rate to new high

Date Posted: 1999-07-09

The June Bank of Japan “tankan” survey shows the economy is on the verge of recovery, yet this will provide little comfort to families of Japanese businessman who committed suicide in 1998, a National Police Agency survey released Thursday shows.

Although the survey is similar to the recent Health and Welfare Ministry report, it is far more significant in that it details the reasons why many Japanese are choosing suicide as an option against an economy suffering from its worst recession in more than 50 years.

The findings are alarming.

Suicides rose by 35 percent in 1998 to a record high of 32,863, with 20,013 men taking their own life, an increase of 40 percent from the year before. Women committing suicide also showed a disturbing rise, at 9,850, up 24 percent from 1997.

As once robust medium- and large-sized companies shed workers in cost-cutting and restructuring measures, the impact on Japanese businessmen is all too obvious. NPA figures show nearly 3,000 business-related suicides, up 70 percent from the previous year, while a further 400 took their own life after being retrenched.

Of the total number of men who chose suicide, nearly 8,000 were in their 50s, a 45 percent jump from 1997 figures.

Yet, it is not just a battered economy and rising dissatisfaction with health care, education and a general malaise that is causing the Obuchi government the most problems. School leavers, faced with less options than in years previous, chose suicide. The NPA survey shows the number of those under 20 who took their life rose by a staggering 53.5 percent from 1997 to exceed 700. Of those, 220 high school students took their own lives in 1998, an increase of 35 percent.

Illness accounted for the most suicides by both genders, with 11,499.

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