Japan gets new ‘Minister of Loneliness’ to battle COVID-induced uptick in suicide cases

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    In news that is both tragic and novel, Japan has appointed an official as the ‘Minister of Loneliness’. The appointment comes as a response to rising suicide rates amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While loneliness has long been a topic of concern for Japan, the increased isolation brought in as a result of the pandemic has had a chilling effect on the populace.
    According to reports, Japanese politician Tetsushi Sakamoto was appointed earlier this month as the Minister of loneliness by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Notably, he is also serving as the country’s Minister of State for Measures for Declining Birthrate and several other portfolios pertaining to regional revitalization and civic engagement. Sakamoto has been tasked with identifying the problems and promoting policy measures to alleviate loneliness and suicidal tendencies.
    For many years now, news reports have laid great emphasis on the isolated lives led by many in Japan. And while this may only be part of the story, the fact remains that over a million people in Japan face what is called ‘hikikomori’. This is a kind of acute social withdrawal, where people refuse to leave their houses or even take part in normal activities such as going to work or school. Even within the confines of their homes they are unlikely to engage with family members.