Tokyo, May 9 (Jiji Press)–Concerns of a spike in suicides in Japan mount as more people face economic hardships and uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic while support groups cut back on activities to prevent infections.
The government is calling on people to actively use telephones and social media for help, instead of face-to-face consultations, but many aid groups are struggling with issues regarding securing personnel and facilities for their activities.
The Federation of Inochi No Denwa, which comprises 52 suicide hotline groups, has been active for about 50 years, but about a quarter of the members have suspended activities amid the epidemic.
Other organizations have also either suspended operations or have scaled back their operating hours or days.
The working environment for staff members at these groups tends to become a closed and crowded place involving close contact with others, a situation believed to increase risks of group infection with the virus. It is also difficult to secure members due to infection risks from commuting.
The Tokyo suicide prevention center, which takes on about 10,000 phone consultations annually, has been suspending its services since Wednesday.
“This is the first such situation in our 22-year history,” Machiko Nakayama, the center head, said. “I am full of guilt when I think about people in need of consultations, but we won’t be able to continue operations if anything bad happens,” she added.
Due to the aging of staff members and issues regarding facilities, the center finds it difficult to take on consultations through means other than telephones at its office, while looking to find a way to reopen as swiftly as possible.
“All of our staff members are volunteers,” Nakayama said. “It would be easier to set up a system if we have aid for members commuting by their personal cars or taxis, or for covering expenses regarding overnight stays at lodging facilities.”
According to Yasuyuki Shimizu, head of Lifelink, a nonprofit organization for suicide prevention, many people consulting via social media are young while many support groups do not have the know-how of using online consultation systems.
Lifelink began to have staff members for social media consultations work from home. However, the organization finds difficulty finding enough personnel as the move was made available for only consultants who vowed to work from a private room and use a personal computer exclusive for the consultation service.
It also worries of the rise in members’ psychological burden of dealing with consultations alone from home.
“Consultations are increasing day by day, and we fear a repeat of the situation when suicides increased following the 1998 financial crisis,” Shimizu said, emphasizing the need to swiftly set up a sufficient system to take on consultations.
According to an emergency survey conducted by another group led by Shimizu in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, over 80 pct of the 55 suicide prevention groups that responded as of the end of April said they suspended or reduced their activities.
In order to resume operations, 60.4 pct of the groups called for the provision of information regarding infection prevention.
Other requests included financial aid for introducing call transfer equipment and internet-related devices, sought by 52.1 pct, and the supply of face masks and other goods, cited by 45.8 pct.