Child suicides in Japan are the highest they have been in more than four decades, according to The Japan Times. As the COVID-19 pandemic prompted school closings and disrupted classrooms last year, 415 children from elementary to high school age were recorded as having taken their own lives. The number is up by nearly 100 from last year, the highest since record-keeping began in 1974.
Suicide has a long history in Japan as a means of avoiding perceived shame or dishonour, and its suicide rate has long been the highest in the Group of Seven nations, but a national effort has reduced numbers by roughly 40% over 15 years, including 10 years of decline since 2009.
Amid the pandemic, suicides increased in 2020 after a decade of declines, with the number of women dying by suicide surging amid the emotional and financial stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic, although fewer men took their own lives.
According to the Mental Health Foundation (UK), mental health problems affect around one in six children. They include depression, anxiety, and conduct disorders, and are often a direct response to what is happening in their lives. Also, 75% of children and young people who experience mental health problems aren’t getting the help they need.
Children’s emotional well-being is just as important as their physical health. Good mental health helps them develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults. Besides things that can help keep children and young people mentally well, such as
- being in good physical health, eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise
- having time and freedom to play, indoors and outdoors
- being part of a family that gets along well most of the time
- going to a school that looks after the wellbeing of all its pupils
- taking part in local activities.
Other factors are also important, including feeling loved, trusted, understood, and safe. Children who are optimistic, resilient, have some control over their lives and feel like they belong are more likely to have good mental wellbeing. Most children grow up mentally healthy, but surveys suggest that more children and young people have problems with their mental health today than 30 years ago.
One of the most important ways parents or guardians can help is by listening to their children and taking their feelings seriously. They may want a hug, they may want you to help them change something, or they may want practical help. Children and young people’s negative feelings usually pass. However, it’s a good idea to get help if your child is distressed for a long time, if their feelings are stopping them from getting on with their lives, if their distress is disrupting family life, or if they are repeatedly behaving in ways you wouldn’t expect at their age.
If your child is having problems at school, a teacher, school nurse, school counsellor, or educational psychologist may be able to help. Otherwise, go to your GP or speak to a health visitor. They can refer a child to further help if necessary. Different professionals often work together in child and adolescent mental health services.
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