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  • Writer's pictureNorth Tokyo Counseling

COVID in Japan and the Mental Health Crisis

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

Japan has not had a good relationship with mental health. In particular, it has been shown that even as we move towards 2022, there is still a great deal of stigma surrounding those who suffer or admit to having mental health issues. For example, in a 2018 study (Kasahara-Kiritani et al., 2018) of perceptions specifically of schizophrenia, there was a strong belief that appropriate treatment could help clients. However, there was a strong aversion to admitting having schizophrenia because of the associated stigma with such an admission. This stigma, which is relatively high in Japan, creates a barrier to Japanese being proactive in seeking out mental health assistance and probably plays a part in exasperating the results of such conditions, such as suicide.

COVID has, in many ways, brought to light the weakness of the mental health system in Japan and highlighted a major cultural issue, which is focused around the collective and can lead to an emphasis on harmony. While this can be a great strength to Japan, the negative result can be seen in the discrimination and stigmatization of those who worked with COVID patients or were diagnosed with the virus. The resulting stigma included taunting, shaming, restricting access to places like schools, or being forced to apologize for getting sick (Shigemura & Kurosawa, 2020). In addition, there was a significant increase in anxiety in families (Shigemura et al., 2020; Tanoue et al., 2020). Further, the drastic changes that resulted from the various states of emergencies have taken their toll on the population. In particular, suicide rates increased significantly (Sakamoto et al., 2021) including a 20-30% increase in suicide of women (Nomura et al., 2021).

Given the challenges that have been brought on as a result of COVID, it is essential now more than ever to promote mental health education, awareness, and accessibility. As we approach 2022, it is imperative that the stigma associated with reaching out to a mental health professional and how families perceive the individual are combatted so that they can build the support networks needed. Further, the idea that those suffering from mental health issues are a “burden” needs to be addressed to encourage those who suffer from such issues to get treatment and ensure they do not suffer from undue discrimination.

Finally, addressing mental health concerns for the foreign population living in Japan needs to be further explored. An increase in English-speaking mental health services would greatly assist those who do not speak Japanese fluently enough to engage with a Japanese therapist, especially those outside the Kanto region.

Kasahara-Kiritani, M., Matoba, T., Kikuzawa, S., Sakano, J., Sugiyama, K., Yamaki, C., Mochizuki, M., & Yamazaki, Y. (2018). Public perceptions towards mental illness in Japan. Asian Journal of Psychiatry, 35, 55-60.

Nomura, S., Kawashima, T., Yoneoka, D., Tanoue, Y., Eguchi, A., Gilmour, S., Kawamura, Y., Harada, N., & Hashizume, M. (2021). Trends in suicide in Japan by gender during the COVID-19 pandemic, up to September 2020. Psychiatry Research, 295, 1-5.

Sakamoto, H., Ishikane, M., Ghaznavi, C., & Ueda, P. (2021). Assessment of suicide in Japan during the COVID-19 pandemic vs previous years. JAMA Network Open, 4(2), 1-10.

Shigemura, J., & Kurosawa, M. (2020). Mental health impact of COVID-19 pandemic in Japan. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(5), 478-479.

Shigemura, J., Ursano, R. J., Morganstein, J. C., Kurosawa, M., & Benedek, D. M. (2020). Public responses to the novel 2019 coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 74, 281.

Tanoue, Y., Nomura, S., Yoneoka, D., Kawashima, T., Eguchi, A., Shi, S., Harada, N., & Miyata, H. (2020). Mental health of family, friends, and co-workers of COVID-19 patients in Japan. Psychiatry Research, 291, 1-3.

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