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J Epidemiol Community Health 64:649-650 doi:10.1136/jech.2009.090787
  • Editorial

Suicide and karoshi (death from overwork) during the recent economic crises in Japan: the impacts, mechanisms and political responses

  1. Juhwan Oh2,3
  1. 1Department of Health Sciences, Interdisciplinary Graduate School of Medicine and Engineering, University of Yamanashi, Yamanashi, Japan
  2. 2Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  3. 3Department of Health Policy and Management, School of Public Health, Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea
  1. Correspondence to Dr Naoki Kondo, Department of Health Sciences, Interdisciplinary Graduate School of Medicine and Engineering, University of Yamanashi, 1110 Shimokato, Chuo-shi, Yamanashi 409-3898, Japan; nkondo{at}yamanashi.ac.jp

    Although still controversial, it has been suggested that overall mortality in industrialised countries tends to rise during economic expansions and fall in recessions, attributed to the boost in traffic and industrial activity and environmental pollution during economic upturns.1 However, as Tapir Granados has demonstrated using Japanese mortality statistics, suicide increases during economic crises perhaps because suicide is usually a consequence of psychological illnesses like depression directly caused by financial hardships due to unemployment or precarious employment.1 Chang et al examined the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 and found that although economic impacts were the most severe in Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia, Japan showed the sharpest rise in suicide rate following the crisis and the rate has hovered at a record high to the present, despite a macroeconomic recovery afterwards.2 Here, the potential reasons for this Japanese-specific suicide trend over the past dozen years are analysed.

    First, the dramatically changed employment systems in Japan through the recession period may explain this. The 1997 crises increased not only unemployment but also the working poor who lost regular employment positions, creating a novel dualism in the labour market.3 4 The share …