Last year saw a record 479 suicides among Japanese students, including in elementary schools. The number jumped when in-person learning resumed. For Father Villa, “lockdown has further boosted psychological online bullying. When people meet again, problems break out.”
School reopening in Japan after COVID-19 has seen a spike in suicides among schoolchildren, 40 per cent on year to a record high 479, this according to the Ministry of Education.
The jump was particularly concentrated in June and after August, when in-person learning began again after a shorter summer break.
Fourteen elementary school pupils took their own life, up by eight over the previous year; 136 were junior high school students, up by 40; and 329 were senior high school students, up by 92.
Among senior high school students who killed themselves, 191 were male, up by 21 from the previous year, while suicides among females almost doubled from 71 to 138.
“In recent years, adult suicides in Japan have decreased somewhat but the problem is growing among children. The main cause of these deaths is bullying, which is also growing among girls,” said Father Marco Villa, secretary general of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), who spent years in Japan as a missionary and is familiar with psychological issues.
“School reopening is always a delicate moment,” he explained. “This year, I fear the lockdown has further boosted psychological online bullying. When people meet again, problems break out.”
“Schools have counselling services and teachers who deal with these situations, but children struggle with their feelings and find it hard to reach out to them. They experience the situation as a failure.”
What is more, “Most of the time, families don’t see the problem until physical symptoms develop. Sometimes the schoolchildren cannot get through the school door and at that point the alarm goes off.”
In Japan, children “carry a heavy burden in a society where competitiveness is already very high in school. Those who struggle with this weight feel cut off.”