(translated from Yomiuri Shimbun, 17 May 2012)
A new strategy has been launched among universities to provide email counseling to troubled students and home visits to hikikomori (individuals suffering from acute social withdrawal) in response to figures showing a dramatic increase in suicides among students concerned over worsening employment prospects.
“I can’t get a job. I want to die” and “I’m terrified of job interviews” are the kind of comments that reflect a state of exhaustion among students overwhelmed by the job search and interview process.
According to the National Police Agency, the number of young people in their teens and twenties last year that killed themselves over employment fears reached 150, which is 2.5 times the number in 2007. University students are particularly affected, with 41 deaths last year, compared to 28 in 2007-- a 3.2 times increase.
Many universities nationwide offer counseling as part of a suicide prevention effort, but according to a psychiatric research group 80 percent of students that completed a suicide did not seek help before killing themselves.
Osaka Prefecture University (Sakai City) has run an email counseling service for troubled students and concerned parents since 2008. Over a 4 year period, one clinical psychologist has dealt with 2300 emails from about 100 students, 30 percent of which alluded to suicide. None have so far killed themselves.
“I have thoughts of suicide but I don’t want to burden my parents so I can’t talk about it” were the thoughts of one 4th year female student experiencing problems in finding a work placement after college. In her case, email counseling proved beneficial and those thoughts gradually receded and she was able to subsequently find employment in the area of her choice.
About 40 parents also used the service, worried about despondency amongst the young people as they return home without work. Counselor Shuichi Kikuchi believes that “students feel worthless when they struggle to find work but through email counseling they can share their worries and begin to look forward again”.