Japan has appointed a “Minister of Loneliness” to help curb depression and rising suicide rates among its residents.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga appointed Tetsushi Sakamoto to lead the new ministry aimed at dealing with loneliness and isolation.
The appointment comes amid an increase in suicide rates for the first time in 11 years, a situation that has been worsened by COVID-19 pandemic.
Reports suggest that more people died from suicide than had died from COVID-19 in Japan in the year 2020. More Japanese were also socially isolated.
The newly appointed Minister of Loneliness will try to reduce loneliness and social isolation among its residents by implementing laws that will help in limiting the issue.
Sakamoto, who is already a minister in charge of dealing with Japan’s declining birthrate and promoting regional revitalisation, will oversee government policies to deal with loneliness and isolation.
Dealing with depression
Japan has in the past introduced peculiar ways of dealing with loneliness and depression.
Last year, young scientists from Gifu University built a robot hand for men to clasp when they feel lonely.
‘Osambo Kanojo’ feels and smells just like that romantic partner. It is meant to comfort and provide companion to the lonely, especially during COVID-19 isolation period.
With a rise in single women in Japan with no stable employment, they have been the major casualties. A total of 879 women died in October, 2020 after committing suicide.
“Women are suffering from isolation more [than men are], and the number of suicides is on a rising trend,” Suga told Sakamoto on a February 12 news conference announcing the new role.
“I hope you will identify problems and promote policy measures comprehensively,” Sugo said while appointing Sakamoto as the Minister of Loneliness.
This recent appointment is, however, not customised to Japan. In 2018, then UK Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a minister for loneliness. This was after a 2017 report found that more than nine million people in the UK were lonely.
To date the UK has been under three loneliness ministers in three years. Australia has considered creating a similar position.
Studies show that loneliness has been linked to a higher risk of health issues like heart disease, dementia, and eating disorders.