Stay at home. That has been the global message to avoid a further spread of the novel coronavirus, with diverse lockdowns now in place in many countries. But being at home without going outside can be challenging for our mental health.
The UN has said the coronavirus pandemic has exposed many years of neglect and underinvestment in addressing people’s mental health needs, calling for ambitious commitments from countries in the way they treat psychiatric illness.
A recent international survey of almost 11,000 people found that more than half of all adults had recently felt depressed or hopeless about the future: 57% in the United Kingdom, 67% in Spain, and 59% in Italy.
In the United States, the Disaster Distress Helpline saw a 338% increase in call volume in March compared with February 2020.
Nevertheless, that’s not necessarily the reality faced by all countries. In Japan, the suicide rate has dropped 20% in April compared to the same month last year – the biggest decline seen by Japan in five years.
Up to 1,455 people took their lives in April 2020 in Japan, which represents 359 fewer cases than in April 2019. The drop follows a long-term path, as suicide rates have been declining for a decade now. The peak was in 2003 with 34,000 cases, dropping to 20,000 last year.
With schools closed, children are safer from bullies
Despite the decline registered over the last few years, there was an increase in suicide rates among children, who were exposed to bullying at school. The academic year usually starts in April but now, with all schools closed, this likely helped to prevent more suicide cases.
“School is pressure for some young people, but this April there is no such pressure,” said Yukio Saito, a former head of telephone counseling service the Japanese Federation of Inochi-no-Denwa, told The Guardian. “At home with their families, they feel safe.”
The coronavirus infection reached its peak in Japan around mid-April, with about 500 cases registered per day. Following the peak, the government declared a state of emergency. Less tight restrictions were implemented than in other countries but suicide preventive organizations were forced to shut down their doors.
The fact that only a small number of people are commuting to work every day has helped to maintain the declining figures, Saito said. Nevertheless, she highlighted that if the pandemic hurts the economy badly, cases could go up. In 1997, during the Asian financial crisis, suicide rates went up by 35%
With many suicide helplines and organizations now closed, many people have shown their willingness to help. Half a million have carried out online training courses to prevent suicides during the last three weeks. The Zero Suicide Alliance created the course, which has already reached a million participants since it was launched in 2017.