Japan appoints “Minister of Loneliness” to check suicide rates increase

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Japan has appointed Tetsushi Sakamoto as “Minister of Loneliness” to help reduce loneliness and tackle the rising suicide rates for the first time in 11 years.

According to The Japan Times, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga created the role in early February, taking after the U.K., which created its own such role in 2018.

Figures from the National Police Agency showed that 20,919 people committed suicide in 2020, a 750-person increase from the previous year and the first consecutive rise in suicides in 11 years, the Times reported. According to the outlet, the surge is most noticeable among women and young people.

“Women are suffering from isolation more (than men are), and the number of suicides is on a rising trend,” Suga told Sakamoto on a February 12 news conference announcing the new role, according to the Japan Times.

“I hope you will identify problems and promote policy measures comprehensively,” Sugo said while appointing Sakamoto as the Minister of Loneliness.

Suga said to the country’s budget committee earlier this month that people from all walks of life are vulnerable, the Times reported.

Japan rated the highest in terms of people aged 60 or older who felt they had no one to turn to in times of need, with 16 per cent of people saying so, compared with 13 per cent in the U.S.

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In October, Japan saw more people die from suicide than had died from Covid-19 in all of 2020, the data shows.

There were 2,153 deaths from suicide in October alone, while Japan had seen 1,765 coronavirus-related deaths by the end of October 2020 for the whole year.

The United Kingdom was the first country to appoint a loneliness minister in 2018, after a 2017 report found that more than nine million people in the UK said they often or always felt lonely. But the role seems to not be a particularly desirable one, as the UK has gone through three loneliness ministers in three years.