The Japanese prime minister has appointed a “minister of loneliness” to his cabinet in response to a recent rise in suicides.
As The Japan Times reported, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga created the role in early February, taking after the U.K., which created its own such role in 2018.
Tetsushi Sakamoto will take on the role, the Times reported, while also handling the country’s falling birth rates and regional economies.
Figures from the National Police Agency showed that 20,919 people committed suicide in 2020, a 750-person increase from the previous year and the first consecutive rise in suicides in 11 years, the Times reported. According to the outlet, the surge is most noticeable among women and young people.
Suga said to the country’s budget committee earlier this month that people from all walks of life are vulnerable, the Times reported.
The newspaper noted that Japan is familiar with loneliness, as kodokushi, or “lonely deaths,” are common. They involve people dying inside their homes and remaining undiscovered for long periods of times.
Japan rated the highest in terms people aged 60 or older who felt they had no one to turn to in times of need, with 16 percent of people saying so, compared with 13 percent in the U.S.
The pandemic has worsened feelings of isolation globally. In the U.S., the Clark County School District in Nevada partially reopened schools in response to a surge of student suicides during the pandemic, with the number of student suicides doubling over the previous year.