What To Do in a Country Where Suicides Outnumber Covid Deaths
CW: This article mentions suicide
All my friends know how much I love the Japanese reality TV show, Terrace House. When my mental health was deteriorating from the stressful environment of college, I would often seclude myself into my room to eat cup noodles while obsessing over this show (yes, my roommates worry sometimes).
It all happened very suddenly: I remember waking up to the news. Hana Kimura from Terrace House had committed suicide. I cried for a week straight. My tears would not stop falling onto my screen as I read news stories and Instagram posts from fellow members cementing the fact that she was actually gone.
A celebrity death had never affected me so much. To this day, I still get upset about her passing and have not watched Terrace House since. But it was never about my love for the show — it was the fact that the seemingly always bubbly and energetic Hana-chan had been battling inner demons on her own. It was not anyone’s fault, but just the despondent reality of this incident and of many others who are quietly struggling.
Hana Kimura took her life because she was in so much pain from hurtful comments posted online. This also happened at the peak of quarantine, when she had no choice but to sit in her apartment alone every day with her dark, intrusive thoughts. Yet, she was not truly alone. In a country like Japan where more deaths occured from suicide than from the coronavirus, many are consumed with the feeling that there is no other choice.
I have repeatedly asked myself, how could we have helped Hana-chan? How could we bring mental health, which remains a taboo subject in Japan, more awareness and transparency? As someone who has also struggled with talking about these topics with my own Asian mother, I cannot grasp a clear answer. How can someone like me change a societal issue that is only seen as an issue once it is too late—once the person is already gone.
As tragic as it is, recent celebrity suicides have struck a nerve with many Japanese people. When it happens to someone who seems so successful and so full of joy, people start to wonder if those that surround them in their everyday lives could be going through the same hardships. I was shocked when my grandmother in Japan brought up the suicide of Haruma Miura on a phone call, which subsequently prompted a conversation about my own mental health.
Suicide is a complex issues that has many layers to it. There is no simple solution that will resolve the severe mental health crisis that Japan is facing, but that does not mean we are hopeless. The first and most important step is raising awareness in any shape or form. It is each and every conversation at the dinner table, each parent who acknowledges their child’s feelings, each media story that discusses mental health, and each person’s own willingness to ask for help that will rid the stigma that often accompanies mental health.
Blossom serves as a source of conversation for me, and I hope that it inspires others to look after themselves and each other as well, in Japan and beyond.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health please reach out to the following resources:
Japanese hotlines in Japanese
Translated by Mutsumi Ogaki
Edited by Meg Nakagawa, Emiru Okada