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Japan takes action over suicides

8 June 07 15:18 GMT
By Chris Hogg, Tokyo
BBC News

Japan's Cabinet has approved a set of measures to try to cut the country's high suicide rate.

The government in Tokyo said it is the first time a comprehensive plan has been agreed to try to reduce the number of people who kill themselves.

Japan's suicide rate is one of the highest in the industrialised world; more than twice the rate of the US and second only to Russia's.

More than 30,000 have killed themselves each year for the last nine years.

That is roughly 24 people out of every 100,000 in the country.

Experts blame a number of factors. Japanese companies and schools are often run without much flexibility; and non-conformity is not tolerated - for those who fail there is often no second chance.

The samurai custom of taking one's life is sometimes given as a reason for modern suicides. Others kill themselves to protect loved ones from embarrassment or to save face.

And the lack of religious taboos against suicide are also, no doubt, a factor.

With so many ingredients at work, though, it is hard to find effective measures to reduce the number of suicides in Japan. In the past politicians have been accused of not trying at all.

Now, though, the government has set itself a target of reducing the suicide rate by more than 20% over the next 10 years.

It plans to try to block access to websites which promote mass suicides, to offer better mental health counselling in the workplace and to organise public campaigns to raise awareness of the problem.

But it will not be easy. The problem was again highlighted last month when the agriculture minister killed himself.

Although the latest figures show a slight fall in the overall numbers of suicides in Japan, the number of young people killing themselves rose sharply - up by 23%.

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