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TOKYO, Jan 22- Suicides rose in Japan in 2020 after a decade of declines, and the number of women who committed suicide grew amid the emotional and financial stress caused by the pandemic, even as fewer men took off their lifetime.
Suicide has a long history in Japan as a way to avoid shame or dishonor. The country’s rate has long outpaced those of other G-7 nations, but a concerted national effort slashed the numbers by 40% in 15 years, including ten consecutive years of decline since 2009.
But preliminary police data released on Friday showed that suicides totaled 20,919 last year, 750 more than in 2019.
The suicide rate had been on a downward trend in the first half of 2020, but as of July, the numbers began to rise as the impact of the coronavirus outbreak hit homes, activists and researchers claimed.
By gender, 13,943 men and 6,976 women committed suicide, down 1% from the previous year for men, but an increase of 14.5 percent for women, who tend to work in the service and retail sectors , the hardest hit by unemployment during the pandemic.
“The painful upward trend in female suicides has continued,” a Health Ministry official told a news conference.
“Suicides are the result of many different things, but I think one thing we can definitely say is that there was an impact of the coronavirus on economic and lifestyle factors,” he added.
The worst month was October, when suicides totaled 2,153 for the highest monthly total in more than five years. The number of female suicides, 851, increased 82.6 percent compared to the same month in 2019.
For many years in Japan, obtaining psychological help has been stigmatized, but when suicides peaked at 34,427 in 2003, alarmed lawmakers drew up a comprehensive prevention program launched in 2007.
Through a combination of government and corporate efforts that included identifying groups at risk, limiting overtime, and making it easier to obtain counseling, suicides had dropped to just over 20,000 in 2019, before the coronavirus hit.
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