Friday, May 29, 2020

Calm before the storm for Japan suicides as coronavirus ravages economy

Machiko Nakayama, director of the Tokyo Befrienders call center, a Tokyo's suicide hotline center, and a volunteer handle an incoming call at the center during the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tokyo, Japan May 26, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - The phones at the Tokyo suicide hotline start ringing as soon as it opens for its once-weekly overnight session. They don’t stop until the lone volunteer fielding calls from hundreds of people yearning to talk signs out early the next morning.

Both operating days and volunteer numbers at the volunteer-run Tokyo Befrienders call centre have been cut to avoid coronavirus infection, but the desperate need remains.

“There are so many people who want to connect and talk to somebody, but the fact is we can’t answer all of them,” centre director Machiko Nakayama told Reuters.

Health workers fear the pandemic’s economic shock will return Japan to 14 dark years from 1998 when more than 30,000 people took their lives annually. With the grim distinction of the highest suicide rate among G7 nations, Japan adopted legal and corporate changes that helped lower the toll to just over 20,000 last year.

Worried the current crisis will reverse that downward trend, frontline workers are urging the government to boost both fiscal aid and practical support.  Read more >>