Last month, Japan’s Health Ministry reported that Japanese women had the longest life expectancy in the world for the 25th year in a row, with the average life span being 86.44 years in 2009. While much has been made of this fact, perhaps more attention should be focused on why the gap between the life expectancy of Japanese women and that of Japanese men is increasing. Interestingly enough, this gap widened last year by 0.09 percent to 6.85 years. While Japanese men have the fourth highest life expectancy in the world at 79.59 years, high suicide rates amongst the country’s young men are impacting it significantly.
According to the National Police Agency, 32,845 people committed suicide last year, with over 70 percent of them being men. This translates into one suicide every 16 minutes, leaving Japan with one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Police say that men carry more stress, and the state of the country’s economy, along with big job losses that followed the global financial crisis are mostly to blame. However, underlying mental health issues that often act as the catalyst to suicide are largely ignored both statistically and on a more personal level by family, due to the shame associated with them—even though a 2008 study by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor found that 24 percent of Japanese suffer from mental health problems.
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