Suicides spike among young women in Japan and South Korea
Suicide rates among young women have increased notably in Japan and South Korea, raising possible links to the prolonged coronavirus pandemic as it amplifies stress levels, worsens economic woes and aggravates feelings of loneliness and isolation.
No comprehensive global studies are yet available on whether the pandemic has caused higher suicide numbers or how it may have affected different age groups and genders.
But Japan and South Korea are among the few countries to issue current data on suicides, with most nations taking a year or two to issue their numbers.
Experts worry that the emerging trends in the two countries could be an early warning for the rest of the world as the pandemic and lockdowns take a toll on mental health.
Research conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the summer found that 1 in 10 respondents had seriously considered suicide the previous month, twice the rate observed in 2018.
The rate among those 18 to 24 years old in the survey was 1 in 4, the CDC reported. There is also some evidence that the rate of suicides among U.S. military personnel has risen.
In Britain, a study issued in October by the British Journal of Psychiatry found that thoughts of suicide had increased during the first six weeks of lockdown, with women and young adults the worst affected.
The total number of suicides in Japan rose to 2,153 in October, the highest monthly count in more than five years, with the greater increase among women, according to government statistics.
Between July and October, at least 2,810 Japanese women took their own lives, nearly 41 percent more than the 1,994 who died by suicide in the same period last year, the reports showed.
Preliminary data by age group shows the sharpest rises in people younger than 29.
Japan already has the highest rate of suicide among the Group of Seven industrialized nations — just ahead of the United States — and is the only country among the seven where suicide is the leading cause of death among 15- to 34-year-olds.
South Korea has a higher suicide rate than Japan, with deaths by suicide peaking at nearly 16,000 in 2011, the highest per capita rate among industrialized nations.
While the overall numbers show a decline in suicides this year, there has been a 43 percent increase in suicides by women in their 20s in the first half of 2020 compared with the same period last year.
Waseda University professor Michiko Ueda, who studies suicidology and suicide prevention, said that the cause of the rise in female suicides this year is not yet clear but that economic factors and isolation are likely to have played a role.