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Japan: Can Twitter help to prevent suicides?

Blue LED lights at Shinjuku St.(Tokyo) By jediduke

The National Police Agency has recently released the results of its annual survey on suicide in Japan. According to the official statistics [ja, pdf], 32,845 people committed suicide last year and dramatic is the increase in number of victims in their 20s and 30s; the main reasons [ja] are said to be 1) health problems, 2) economic and social problems, 3) family problems.

Sadly known as one of the developed countries with one of the highest per capita number of suicides [en], Japan has been trying for years to confront the problem, by working to tackle it at all levels of society. The government and other groups constantly launch campaigns to raise awareness and invite people to turn to assistance centers whenever they feel depressed or convinced that the only way to solve their, or often their loved ones, problems is to commit suicide.

Deciding to talk to somebody, reflecting and defining the causes of their desperation, is a very hard step that few people in a state of depression are believed to be able to make. But, although it cannot represent a definitive solution, some believe that the internet might be a tool to help, especially among the tech-savvy, younger generations.

To this regard, Twitter has been recently a subject of debate of those who see in its 140 word format a potential for contact with those who seek help but prefer to remain anonymous and cannot express their suffering in long and well articulated phrases.

Yamabe says that the news [en] that actress Demi Moore reportedly prevented a woman from committing suicide by tweeting a 16-word-long comment recently made him reflect on the question.

考えてみたんだけど、案外自殺予防とツイッターって相性が良いのかもしれない
まず、ツイッターはゆるい関係が主体なので、書き込みがしやすいというのがある
このことは何を意味するかというと、ちょっと人生が嫌になって実際に自殺はしないのだけど
心が折れてしまってこのまま消えてしまいたいそんな気持ちをもツイッターでつぶやきやすいということだ
つまり自殺予防だけではなく、その前の段階(死んでしまいたい気持ち)に至るのをも防ぐことができるということだ
絶望から来る自殺なら、ツイッターでそれをつぶやけば
案外自分は一人ではないと気がつくかもしれない……

I gave it some thought and realized that actually suicide prevention and Twitter could be a good match.
First of all; the relationships through Twitter are more casual, which makes writing easier. When feelings first surface that life is disappointing or depressing without going so far as to want to end it, this is a point where that feeling could be tweeted – feeling that one simply can't go on and that perhaps it would be better to disappear from this world.
Therefore, it could be possible to apply Twitter not only for actual suicide prevention but also to inhibit the birth of that previous stage, the thought of wanting to die. For suicides that result from utter despair, if one can tweet the desperation, maybe it will help to realize that one is not alone….

Suicide Prevention mirror, in Sapporo. by MJTR (´・ω・)

Many have tried to give insight [en] into such a complex issue, trying to analyze the sociological implications that the ‘act of suicide’ has in Japan, where traditionally it used to be considered as a brave act at times. Not only in the samurai culture but also in the rural one, where often the older people decided to ‘retire’ themselves in the mountains [en] instead of being a burden to their families.

But the fact that the number of victims is not likely to decrease, can only mean that the causes are difficult to identify, and some bloggers, like Ayasan, are skeptical about the power of Twitter and the Internet in general.

ツイッターやチャット、相手の素性を知らず(こちらの素性も知られず)に、リアルタイムでやり取りをする方法は沢山あります。
勿論、然るべきルートで然るべき方法をとれば、「PCの向こう側の個人」を特定することはできるけど、リアルタイムではほぼ無理。
そういう状況の中で、フリーにアクセスできてしまうツールで、「命」を扱う事、私はとても危うい事だと思います。[…]
過去の記事に、「言葉は人を殺す事ができる」という内容の記事を書いた事があります。
言葉の選び方、漢字の使い方、文のニュアンス…
「あちら側との狭間」に立つ人は、「言い回しひとつ」に過剰に反応し、簡単に決行してしまう。
PCを通して向かい合っている(つもり)の相手が、「善意の人」だと言い切れますか?
インターネットでの繋がり程度で、「死にたい程の孤独」が紛れると本気で考えてるとしたら、相当オメデタイか、想像力が欠如してると思うよ?
確かに、「一時的な気休め」にはなるのかも知れないけれど、最終的な光にはなり得ない

There are many ways to deal with each other in real time, such as using Twitter or a chat room, where you don't know who the other one is nor do they know who you are. Of course it may be technically possible to identify the individual behind the PC but in real time, it's almost impossible. Which is why in such circumstances, I think it's very dangerous that someone's life can be handled with a tool that allows such free interchange. […]

I wrote in a past article that ‘words have the power to kill a person’. The choice of words, the usage of the characters and the nuance of the whole sentence is very important. The person who teeters on that fine dividing line between life and the ‘other’ side is very sensitive and reacts to each phrase, making go/no-go decisions very quickly. Can one say for sure that the person, with whom one is interacting through a PC, is really behaving with good faith?

I would say congratulations to those who actually believe that with the kind of bonds you can build through the Internet, the feeling of a person who is seriously thinking ‘I feel so lonely that I want to die’ can really be distracted. Or perhaps they're lacking in imagination.
Yes, communicating via Internet with an unknown person may provide temporary relief but I do not think it can provide a long-lasting insight or solution.

If preventive measures such as barriers and blue light LEDs on railway station platforms (jumping off the train is a favored method of ‘self ending’) haven't proved effective in suicide prevention, some consider that, in the era of blogs, Twitter and Facebook, the social network services may be a new way to help solve the problem.
Ikeda Hayato believes in the power of social media.

今までのウェブだったら、その声は無視されていたかも知れませんが、ソーシャルグラフ(人間関係/データ関係)が構築された昨今のウェブでは、声を上げることは「つながる」きっかけになり得えます。
Wonder Shakeの鈴木君(@Doubles9124)が、「ソーシャルメディアは人生を変える意思決定を生み出す可能性のある場」という言葉をスカイプで伝えてくれました。自殺を防ぐことができたら、それは究極的な「人生を変える意思決定」です。
ショッキングなことに、20代・30代の自殺率が上がっているそうです。テクノロジーで全て解決できるわけはありませんが、今のウェブは「つながる」力を持っています。ソーシャルウェブを活用することで、一人でも多くの人の人生が変わるのなら、素晴らしいことだと思います。

With the ‘old’ style web, the voice of those who suffer might have gone ignored but with the current web, where social graphs (human relations, data relations) are structured and available, raising your voice can become a connection with someone.
Mr. Suzuki of Wonder Shake (@Doubles9124), sent me these words via Skype:” Social media represent the space where it is possible to generate a decision making path to change a person's life”. If it's possible to prevent suicides, that would be the ultimate use of a decision making path to change a person's life.
What I found really shocking was that the number of suicides among people in their 20s and 30s is increasing. Of course it's impossible to solve every individual problem with technology but today's web has the power to connect and it would be a wonderful thing if, by using the social web, the life of even only one more person could change and be saved.

Suicide prevention campaign. by titincai. The poster reads ‘Are you thinking of dying? Communicate your thoughts.’

3 comments

  • gie

    When I visited Nikko twice, there were two suicides which happened in Kegon Falls site. Most people who were present just sighed and shrugged off… The tourists’ platform is safe and it is a very beautiful place to visit… Reasons for committing suicide can be shame and pride, depression and no one to turn to because everybody is busy. Being a burden is not a normal practice in Japan because they work hard to live… Suicide is a world issue and this needs an attention. Every country must have a hotline whenever a person feels ‘low’…

  • Andrew Grimes

    I agree with the comment above that every country must have a hotline and I would like to suggest that as many Japanese people have very high reading skills in English that any articles dealing with mental health issues in Japan could usefully provide contact details for hotlines and support services for people who are depressed and feeling suicidal.

    Some useful telephone numbers and links for residents of Tokyo and Japan who speak Japanese and/or English and are feeling depressed or suicidal and need to get in touch with a mental health professional qualified in Japan:

    Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service):
    Japan: 0120-738-556
    Tokyo: 3264 4343

    AMDA International Medical Information Center:
    http://amda-imic.com/

    Tokyo Counseling Services:
    http://tokyocounseling.com/english/
    http://tokyocounseling.com/jp/

    http://www.counselingjapan.com

  • […] New Media vs Old Media In 2010, traditional Japanese media, that to many seem now obsolete and of power, have been challenged in many ways and the changes will likely be seen in the coming year as well. Twitter was at the center of attention, as its 140 character-long-messages were used by important people like former prime minister and were considered an important tool to create a social network and possibly to help prevent suicides. […]

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