The Japanese government recently released its 2014 white paper on suicide in the nation. While the continuing downward trend in the number of people taking their own lives is encouraging, the statistics also revealed the sobering and troubling fact that suicide is the leading cause of death among Japanese aged 15 to 34.
This isn’t to say that Japan has a high youth mortality rate in general. For example, street and gang violence is practically nonexistent, leading to a miniscule number of homicides in the age bracket, particularly in comparison to the U.S.
Japan’s accidental youth death rate is also extremely low. The terrible earthquake and tsunami of 2011 notwithstanding, the natural disasters that strike Japan are usually well within what structures are designed to withstand. A reliance on the extremely safe mass transit system, as well as the large number of people who get around by foot or bicycle, mean far fewer deaths from automobile collisions, which are always a major cause of death, especially among younger, less-experienced or careful drivers.
To illustrate, a comparison of statistics collected between 2004 and 2010 showed accidents as the cause of 7.9 deaths per 100,000 Japanese people in the 15 to 34 age group. This is in stark contrast to France’s 15.1 deaths, Canada’s 19.6, and the U.S.A.’s towering 37.4.
▼ Deaths per 100,000 people (suicide beige, accidents green)
Nor did Japan have the highest rate of youth suicide. While Japan’s 20 suicides per 100,000 people in the age group was higher than any of the other countries in the above chart (followed distantly by Canada’s 12.2), it was still below the figure of 23.5 found in Korea.
Still, Japan’s 6,960 suicides in the age bracket for 2013 is startling. Breaking the data further down into five-year increments reveals suicide to consistently be the leading cause of death, accounting for a staggering 51.7 percent of deaths for those aged 20 to 24.
Again, this percentage is somewhat skewed by the relative safety of life in Japan. As mentioned above, you’re not likely to become a victim of random, lethal violence. You also don’t have such a high chance of getting hit by a car or have your house collapse on you, and just 17.3 percent of Japanese 20 to 24 who lost their lives did so in an accident, their second-leading cause of death.
The third most-likely cause for the group was cancer, which claimed only 6.9 percent of those who passed away, lower than any other age group between 10 and 64. There’s a logical explanation for this, since if you’ve made it out of your teens, odds are you weren’t born with any sort of life-threatening illness. You’re also still young enough that your body can bounce back from lifestyle-induced attempts to destroy it with alcohol or tobacco.
▼ Be warned, though. Make this a daily habit, and your body will eventually get you back for it.
In other words, if you’re a young adult in Japan, there’s not much that’s going to kill you other than yourself.
In comparing the sexes, women showed lower suicide rates than men for every age group over the age of 15. While suicide remains the leading cause of death for men from 15 all the way up until 44, it drops to the second-leading cause of death starting at 35 for women, at which point it’s overtaken by cancer.
▼ Even if we’re only doing it because of the proof that the mental and societal anguish that drives people to suicide is weaker by comparison, it still feels a little weird cheering for cancer. It’s sort of like politely applauding as you watch Stalin beat Hitler in a sack race.
The biggest silver lining to the report, and something definitely worth being thankful for, is that for the second consecutive year the total number of suicides in Japan dropped in comparison to the preceding 12-month period. Just two years ago, researchers counted roughly 30,000 suicides, while 27,283 were found for 2013, lending justification to the 36 billion yen (US$356 million) the government is planning to spend in fiscal 2014 on suicide prevention.
Here’s hoping that trend keeps going in 2014.
Sources: Hachima Kiko, Yahoo! Japan News, Japanese Government Cabinet Office
Top image: Wikipedia/Chris 73
Insert images: Japanese Government Cabinet Office (edited by RocketNews24), CI Labo, Wikipedia