World Suicide Prevention Day With Juri Watanabe
Miss World Kyoto Uses Her Platform To Raise Awareness On The Rising Issue In Japan
With her new title as Miss World Kyoto 2019, Juri Watanabe recognizes the outreach she has and is putting it to use.
On Sunday, September 8, Tokyo hosted its annual TELL Tokyo Tower Climb. The event is a celebration of love, support, and physical prowess, and the strength it takes to battle one of the most misunderstood illnesses there is—mental illness.
We don’t need to reel off the statistics for most folks to know that Japan is a nation greatly affected by mental illness and suicide.
Today, Tuesday, September 10, marks World Suicide Prevention Day.
One person raising awareness and clarifying any misconceptions many people have around mental illness in Japan is TELL advocate and Miss World Kyoto, Juri Watanabe. Watanabe has been collaborating with the organization, focusing on the two most at-risk groups, women and youth. We spoke with her about Japan’s suicide rate, the theories as to why it’s so high, and what people can do to help those who may be at risk.
TELL is an organization that provides counseling and lifeline support to the international and local communities in Japan. How did you get involved with TELL and what inspired you to become a spokesperson?
I went to a very competitive prep school for high school and I had to work really hard to keep up. During my senior year, I experienced what you might call a ‘burn-out’. My grades dropped drastically and it was difficult to find purpose in anything. I was really unhappy.
While Japanese people are typically very health-conscious people, we completely disregard mental health as part of our overall health.
Unfortunately, my unhappiness led me to turn to harmful coping mechanisms. It wasn’t until university that I met friends who actually shared similar struggles who I could openly discuss the topic with. That environment paired with a therapist helped me to heal and propelled me to want to make a difference.
I decided to reach out to TELL to collaborate so that we can use each other’s platforms to raise awareness around a topic that desperately needs more attention.
As a Japanese person with an international background, what do you think about Japan’s discussions around mental health? How does it compare to other nations?
I grew up in an Asian American home, where mental health was not something that was openly discussed. I think it’s the same in Japanese homes. If you’re having problems, you’re not really supposed to talk about it; you’re just supposed to deal with it. Most often, it is the opposite for Western homes where open discussions about your thoughts and feelings is more encouraged.
[In Japan,] poor mental health is often stigmatized. Yet, descriptors associated with conditions like depression and anxiety are so lightly thrown around (kind of like a joke), making it challenging to create an environment to take the topic seriously.
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What do you think are the major barriers for people in Japan looking for mental health support?
Lack of available and affordable treatment services is one thing, but even before that, the bigger problem is that Japan is not yet a safe space to openly talk about mental illness. When one has poor mental health, it is often regarded as a sign of weakness, and in some extreme cases, a disgrace to their family and or community. While Japanese people are typically very health-conscious people, we completely disregard mental health as part of our overall health.
The wellbeing of youth and women is something you’ve said is your major focus as an advocate, why do you think it’s important to look at this demographic?
I thought that I could be the best of service to youth and women because I can connect with those groups the most.
One of the reasons many don’t seek help is fear of being discriminated against and shamed, which is often cited as being worse than the mental illness itself.
Beyond that, youth is a critical time in gaining an understanding of mental health/illness. “Mental illnesses and stigma impacts the way young people learn and build skills” (TELL), so it’s not only important healthwise, but also important in paving the way for their (and the country’s) successful future.
What are the main triggers for youth suicide in Japan?
Media tends to focus on bullying as the main trigger for youth suicide in Japan. However, the trigger is often intertwined with several reasons such as mental health problems, financial issues, domestic abuse/neglect, other family problems, and school. It’s essential to get the overall picture rather than having a narrow view of the reason behind youth suicide.
What are the main triggers for female suicide in Japan?
Female suicide is still the leading cause of death among women aged 15-34 in Japan. Little has been done to assess the reason behind why that is the case, but amongst pregnant and first-time mothers, the main reason seems to be postpartum depression, loneliness, and isolation.
What are the key preventative measures for dealing with potentially suicidal youth and women currently?
“Shatter Stigma” (TELL). Currently, only about a quarter of those who experience mental illness seek help. One of the reasons many don’t seek help is fear of being discriminated against and shamed, which is often cited as being worse than the mental illness itself.
[W]e have to actively make an environment that allows people to be comfortable with seeking help. Suicide is preventable, and mental illness is treatable, but there has to be support available and used.
Therefore, we have to actively make an environment that allows people to be comfortable with seeking help. Suicide is preventable, and mental illness is treatable, but there has to be support available and used.
What we can all do on an individual level is simply opening up this discussion. Attend events that promote awareness. Share it on social media. Speaking of which, social media doesn’t need to be a highlight reel of your life—show your real life, including the ups and downs.
What are the telltale signs (if any) for those at risk?
Signs can vary from person to person, condition to condition, but below are some of the most common warning signs for adults, young adults, and adolescents:
- Confused thinking
- Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
- Feelings of extreme highs and lows
- Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
- Social withdrawal
- Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Strong feelings of anger
- Strange thoughts (delusions)
- Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
- Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
- Suicidal thoughts
- Numerous unexplained physical ailments
- Substance use
If the people reading this or someone they know may be battling with their mental health, where should they look for help?
Luckily, there are more and more organizations that are providing counseling and support for those in need. TELL continues to strive to be a comprehensive mental health service provider for the increasingly diverse and international community. TELL’s psychotherapists and psychologists are compassionate, experienced and dedicated, and the following services are provided:
- Confidential face-to-face counseling
- Licensed, experienced professional clinicians
- Flexible fees
- Video-based counseling available
- Multiple languages (English / 日本語 / 普通話 / 廣東話/ Español)
- Three locations: Tokyo (Omotesando), Yokohama (limited availability), Okinawa (Kadena)
I’m hoping to make services available and affordable to more people.
Crisis support services can be reached every day of the year at TELL Lifeline: 03-5574-0992. Or contact the online via the TELL website.