Suicide has become the leading cause of death among children aged 10 to 14 in Japan for the first time in the postwar period, an analysis of government demographic data has shown.
While the total number of people across the country who kill themselves has declined remarkably in recent years, statistics released by the health ministry for 2017 showed that 100 children in that particular age group took their own lives, accounting for 22.9 percent of all deaths in their generation.
Cancer came second for the age bracket, at 22.7 percent, followed by accidents at 11.7 percent.
Among Japanese nationals, the overall number of suicides peaked in 2003 at more than 32,000 before declining to 20,465 in 2017. However, the number of suicides per 100,000 people among those aged 10 to 19 remains flat.
Among those between 15 and 39, meanwhile, suicide has been the dominant cause of death since 2012. About half of those who killed themselves were in their 20s.
Individual factors prompting children aged 10 to 14 to kill themselves have not been sufficiently clarified, according to the white paper from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry on preventing suicide and other documents.
Many of those involved in cases of suicide had not previously attempted to kill themselves, making it harder for people around them to recognize the signs, the documents said.
A recent trend in Japan in which suicides by children surge just after holidays, such as the spring and summer vacations, has become a major social issue.
Junko Sakanaka, a school counselor and member of a government panel tasked with the prevention of suicide, has said it is a “serious situation” for suicide to be the leading cause of death among those aged 10 to 14.
“To prevent children from taking their own lives, we need to grasp the more detailed, actual conditions. Now, we adults are being questioned on the extent to which we can recognize (children’s) distress signals, which are hard to perceive,” she said.
In July 2017, the government adopted a suicide prevention plan, which included a focus on measures to prevent youth suicides.
It has strengthened counseling online, while schools are also giving lectures to students on how to seek help when they have concerns.