Japan has appointed a "Minister of Loneliness" amidst the first uptick in the country's suicide rate in 11 years, Nikkei Asia reported.
Isolation exacerbated by Covid-19 pandemic
According to The Japan Times, regional revitalization minister Tetsushi Sakamoto was nominated on Feb. 12 to oversee the issue of social isolation, which has been exacerbated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The issue had been raised by Japan's Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, at a meeting in which he told Sakamoto:
"Women are suffering from isolation more (than men are), and the number of suicides is on a rising trend. I hope you will identify problems and promote policy measures comprehensively."
Nearly 21,000 suicides were reported in 2020
Nikkei Asian further reported that a total of 20,919 suicides were reported in 2020, with an increase of 750 cases from 2019.
This increase is the first since 2009, in the wake of the global financial crisis.
In addition, suicides among men fell for the 11th consecutive year, while suicides among women rose to 6,976, for the first time in two years.
440 cases of suicide were also reported among elementary, middle and high school students by Nov. 2020, the highest number since 1980.
Will hold an emergency meeting with advocacy groups
As such, Sakamoto is expected to assemble a team which will coordinate efforts between different agencies and ministries.
The minister raised the possibility of working with the health ministry on suicide prevention and the agriculture ministry on providing food banks to people experiencing isolation.
He will also hold an emergency meeting with advocacy groups to hear their viewpoints on helping people who face loneliness and isolation.
"I hope to carry out activities to prevent social loneliness and isolation and to protect ties between people," he added.
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