TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Japan Internet Suicide Deaths Soar to 91 in 2005

Japan Internet Suicide Deaths Soar to 91 in 2005

Elaine Lies (
Thu, 9 Feb 2006 21:43:44 -0600

By Elaine Lies

The number of Japanese killing themselves in groups after meeting
through the Internet -- strangers afraid to die alone -- soared to a
record 91 last year, nearly double that of 2004, police said on

The deadly pacts pose a grim challenge for officials struggling to
deal with Japan's high suicide rate, one of the worst among
industrialised nations.

No religious prohibitions exist against taking one's own life in
Japan, where suicide was once a form of ritual atonement for samurai
warriors and in modern times is a way to escape failure or save loved
ones from embarrassment or financial loss.

Suicides surged by 35 percent in 1998 as Japan's economy was mired in
stagnation and have exceeded 30,000 every year since then.

Group suicides make up only a small fraction of the total, but the
steady annual increase, along with the widespread media coverage most
get, has experts increasingly worried.

"Many people are too scared to die alone," said Yumiko Misaki,
director of the Tokyo Inochi no Denwa (Phone of Life), a suicide
counselling service. "So they reach each other through the Internet
and make arrangements.

"And the worst thing is that people are often very influenced by
reporting on this, so it's likely to keep on increasing."

In 2003, 34 died in group suicides, rising to 55 in 2004 and 91 last


That compares with a total of 32,325 suicides in 2004, the latest year
for which figures are available -- down from the record-high 34,427 in
2003 but second only to Russia among Group of Eight industrialised

According to World Health Organization data, Japan's suicide rate was
24.1 per 100,000 people in 2000, compared with 39.4 in Russia and 10.4
in the United States.

The pace of group suicides was especially sharp during the first three
months of last year. On one day in February, six people were found
dead in a car on a deserted rural road.

As with most of the other cases, police found several charcoal stoves
in the car, which had its windows sealed from inside. The three men
and three women had died by inhaling carbon monoxide from the

Experts warn that the Internet alone cannot be blamed for promoting
suicide, but noted that the intensity of some suicide chat rooms may
worsen the psychological state of those involved.

With mental care systems in Japan still basic and often overloaded,
the Internet also has the potential to be a powerful therapeutic tool,
particularly since many Japanese find it hard to share their worries
with others face to face.

The time lag between people writing about their feelings and receiving
an answer, however, is a hurdle that Misaki's group -- which plans to
start an Internet counselling service later this year -- finds

"The best solution would be if we could break into the chat rooms and
start communicating with people directly," Misaki said.

There are some hopeful signs, however.

From October, several communications industry groups began providing
police with information on people who posted messages suggesting they
might be close to committing suicide.

Deaths from group suicides in the last three months of the year, after
the new system took effect, dropped to 11 from 36 during the same time
the previous year, police said.

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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