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Workplace Stress Leads to Rising Suicide Rate in Japan

Kamikaze soldiers or not, suicide rates among Japanese have generally tended to be high. Now a government study has found the number of employment-related suicides hit a record 65 in 2006, compared to 42 the previous year, Health Ministry official Junichiro Kurashige said.

The number of workers who received compensation for work-induced mental illness was 205, also a record and up 61 percent from a year earlier, he said. The number of applications for compensation for mental illness or suicide also rose sharply, to 819 cases, a 24 percent jump.

"Before, people tried to hide that they were suffering from depression," said Mikio Mizuno, a lawyer specializing in death from overwork. "Now, it has become more widely known that people suffer and commit suicide from work-related depression, leading to more applications for workers' compensation. The psychological burden from work is also increasing."

The numbers reflect a push by the government to get more workers or their families to seek compensation if they are legitimately entitled to it, and Kurashige said the recorded cases probably reflect only a tiny fraction of the overall problem.

Japan's suicide rate is among the highest in the industrialized world. More than 32,000 Japanese killed themselves in 2004, the bulk of them older Japanese suffering financial woes as the country struggled through a decade of economic stagnation.

In response, the Japanese government has earmarked substantial funds for programs to help those with depression and other mental illnesses and is more actively involved in encouraging those affected to come forward.

The figures are also seen as reflecting a change in social attitudes toward mental illness.

Though once seen as shameful, more Japanese are willing to acknowledge they suffer from depression or stress-related illnesses now than in the past, and the government has begun easing its compensation restrictions to allow more people to qualify.

Financial worries have been a problem since the world's second-largest economy stagnated in the early 1990s after a burst of high growth, leading to bankruptcies, layoffs and an increased focus on jobs with fewer benefits and long-term security.

The economic has been growing again, but more slowly, and Japanese workers often face long overtime hours with little or no compensation and must make long commutes to work.


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