Thoughts on the movie Saving 10,000: Winning a War on Suicide in Japan
Last night I was invited to a well attended Diet screening for Rene Duignan’s much talked about film (see Asahi Shimbun 1/22/2013, Yomiuri Shimbun 125/2013 amongst others). The presentation, opened by MP Hosono, and closed by MP Renho, who is the former minister in charge of suicide prevention in Japan, had an important following.
Over 100 Diet members were invited. Murata Nobuyuki moderated the event and Professor Hidetoshi Nakamura, Deputy Director of EU Institute of Japan at Waseda University gave remarks. Saito Yukio, Nakashita Daiki and Rene Duignan were on the panel.
Rene Duignan and Saving 10,000
Rene Duignan, who works for the European Union Delegation in Tokyo, is by training an economist.
A man of great spirit and focus, he spent many late nights and countless weekends over the three last years wanting to make a difference about one issue: suicide in Japan. Interviewing countless experts he made a film which examines why so many Japanese people take their own lives in Japan. The result is tremendous.
The film is released today free on the internet in order to reach the greatest number. Saving 10,000: Winning a War on Suicide in Japan, is going to make an impact. It will make you think about what you can do to save a life.
Statistics on Japan’s Suicide Rate
The movie raises many questions about why Japan’s suicide rate is so high despite a declining population. A few figures stuck out: the suicide rate in Japan is 2x that of the United States, in the last 10 or so years 300,000 people committed suicide in Japan — a figure about equal to the population of Iceland.
Most notably, of the 30,000 who take their lives each year from suicide, 10,000 have been in a mental hospital and 1/3 are over 60. Having said this, to suggest that the thought of suicide only crosses the mind of the weak or aging in Japan would be wrong. Another study shows that 40% of University Students in Japan have considered suicide.
I will allow you to view the film or see the reviews. I will just make a comment on a possible answer to suicide.
The Best Suicide Prevention: Stronger Intimate Relationships and Existential Meaning
For me the opposite of death is life. This means that the best suicide prevention is to help people live healthier happier lives full of meaning.
It can also come on the existential level, with a sense of life purpose or meaning that has a spiritual element be it a strong morale, an appreciation of beauty or the capacity to use our life to help others.
On an existential level this can be experienced as beauty, as oneness with nature, or for some the experience of being one with the universe or with God.
Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
On the individual level, given the Japanese statistics, Japanese psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers can play a role by helping the Japanese balance their inner lives, despite outward difficulties which in our world today only seem to be growing.
For this reason, Rene will also be giving up a follow-up event of the EU’s screening of his film on March 27th 2013 at the EU Delegation to Japan with Dr. Yukio Ishizuka, a Japanese Harvard trained psychiatrist who founded the Japan International Medical Student Association (JIMSA) with the support of Dr. Taro Takemi—the long-standing President of the Japanese Medical Association and a well-respected physician and nuclear physicist.
Using Crisis to Make A Breakthrough in Life
Dr. Yukio Ishizuka will talk about how a failed suicide attempt can be an opportunity to breakthrough beyond a previous best level in one’s sense of self, intimacy and achievements.
The talk will address our threshold for individual stress, the subjective factor, suffering and happiness. Rene and other experts will be on a panel.
Suicide a Permanent Solution to a Temporary Problem
As Rene points out in his film, just one of us can do a lot. The patrol man Shige-san who along with his volunteers has sucessfully stopped 297 from jumping off Tojimbo Cliff, has had an impact. Most notably of those 297 who were determined to take their lives at that moment, only 4 later committed suicide. That means, that 293 of the 297 found it possible to overcome the terrible circumstance that once made life seem impossible.
Societal Factors that Play a Role Should be Addressed
But as Durkheim, the French sociologist, pointed out the causes of suicide can be found in social factors and not just individual personalities. When a society faces disintegration in the family structure, in politics and religion (or meaning), then suicide increases. That may be true not just of Japan, but of the world. However, there are national specificities in life insurance packages, in gambling, alcohol, mental health, bullying and how we view death and suffering through our culture, literature and history that also play a role. In this aspect, the film examines some important issues.
Japanese Artists Have a Positive Role to Play
As far as Japanese artists goes, there is also much that can be done. Henry Scott Stokes, a personal friend of Yukio Mishima — the Japanese renown author who took his life in gruesome circumstances– has much to say on the matter. The death of Mishima is a great loss to the world.
In the film Saving 10,000 lives Mr. Stokes states, “The suicide tendency among Japanese authors has been extremely high. And if you just list them going through the decades there are many who took their lives and the pattern is totally out of shape with the rest of the world. There is no where else where the suicide of novelists is so prevalent.”
Henry Scott Stokes regrets dearly Mishima’s decision and states, “Those of us who knew he had suicidal tendencies should have stepped forward, should have found a way to enable him to continue to live.”
Because artists are often sensitive to the beauty of life, they also feel deeply the pain. The challenge for Japanese artists in the future may be to help the Japanese experience the fullness of life without the fascination for death.
While life and death are inseparable, all of us can overcome. We can express the ugliness of despair and the beauty of finding one’s own way. Through art, including literature, Japanese artists can inspire the Japanese to new heights, to the experience of greater beauty and meaning– to a dignity that will move us all.
There is a spiritual value in art that touches our core and in this Japanese artists have a profound opportunity to touch far more than 10,000.
Art will always express what words cannot.
Crisis and Opportunity for Fundamental Change
Fundamental Individual & National Change in Crisis
As difficult as crisis can be, it may be an ideal opportunity for fundamental change in the individual as stated by Dr. Yukio Ishizuka and seen in the graph above or (as Dr. Paul Briot, a Belgian philosopher and writer) has pointed out poignently — in a nation.
In a letter addressed to Japanese friends published in English and Japanese by the chief editor of Sogensha in Osaka, dealing with psychology psychotherapy and art, Dr. Paul Briot and I write:
“Nations, just like individuals, often ask crucial questions in times of crisis. It is only when things become really difficult that we have the courage to consider transformational change. After the 2011 tragedy, Japan set about recovering with a dignity and courage that moved the world. Just as in 1945, the Japanese will recover and rebuild. The question is: can a new Japan emerge?”
It is often only when we have reached our worst, that we can ask fundamental questions and create something new beyond a previous best. After March 11, 2011 the time may have come.
Japan Can Use Crisis to Breakthrough
Japan can do much to reduce the suicide rate and help create a society of meaning. We all have a role to play in this. It starts by taking time to notice how we impact others and how we can help those in difficulty. We can start by making changes first in ourselves and then in the world around us.
On a national level, it also takes bonds, but of a more profound and fundamental nature. By calming our emotion, by using our reason and focusing on knowledge and compassion, we can begin to make important changes in our country and in this world.
Please contribute to the campaign and pass on the link to those who can make a difference. That is: all of us!
Some Useful Links:
Hotline in Japan on Suicide: Tell Suicide Prevention
For more on Health, Happiness and Optimal Adjustment