Suicide of Japanese Mom with COVID Prompts Calls for Mental Care

“I’ve inconvenienced the people around me,” the woman said in a note.
January 22, 2021, 1:46pm
The pandemic has taken a toll on mental health
The pandemic has taken a toll on Japanese people's mental health. Photo: PHILIP FONG/AFP

Japanese authorities said a mother in her 30s killed herself last Friday while recovering from the coronavirus in her Tokyo home. 

The woman left a note saying she felt responsible for the infection of her daughter, whom she lived with along with her husband. “I’ve inconvenienced those around me,” the message said, according to NHK News. The woman, who had mild symptoms of COVID-19 when she died, had contracted the virus from her husband earlier this month, the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun reported.

Advertisement

The mother’s suicide, publicized on Friday, has sent shock waves through the country. Many have questioned whether her death could have been prevented had she not been made to feel guilty for contracting the virus, citing the widespread shaming of those who did not follow public health advice, known in the country as “corona bullying.”

Takishita, a woman in her 50s who works in the education industry, said she could understand the “crushing guilt” the mother might have felt given the grim toll of the virus.

“It makes me want to cry, thinking about how guilty this woman may have felt. It could happen to anyone,” said Takishita, who prefers to go by her last name. “It’s easy to lose your mental health to anxiety.”

Kaname Yamaguchi, a former book editor, said the tragedy was inevitable. “The government pushes the message that we must ‘stay home for our loved ones,’ but I don’t think people can withstand the mental toll if they realized they gave the virus to their family. There’s no denying that this pandemic has had a negative impact on people’s mental health,” he told VICE World News.  

Suicides in Japan rose for the first time in 11 years, Japanese authorities said on Friday. The preliminary number of suicides in 2020 increased by 3.7 percent from the previous year to 29,919, according to Japan’s Ministry of Health and the National Police Agency. Government officials have cited the coronavirus as one of the main factors in the spike.

Advertisement

Naka Nakanogawa, a college student, said that many people felt the impact of the coronavirus on their mental health. 

“As a college student, I spend my entire day just staring at my screen. I can’t work at my part-time job. The only time I go outside is to buy groceries. I have no one to talk to about the things that made me happy or sad that day,” she said. “I wonder how long this loneliness and frustration will last. I feel helpless in the endless battle.”

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has offered her condolences to the woman who died and said the circumstances of her death would be further investigated. During a press conference on Friday, Koike said she would consider improving mental health services in Tokyo.

The Japanese government has previously proposed imposing fines up to 1 million yen ($9,644) on coronavirus patients with mild or no symptoms who refuse to be hospitalized.

But Yamaguchi, the book editor, said the tragedy showed that such a policy could backfire.

“Because there are cases such as this one, where people choose to end their lives, I think it’s important that the governor has a dialogue with the people. She needs to communicate and enlighten us about how to take care of our whole selves, including our mental health.”  

Nakanogawa, the student, said “understanding, not guilt, should be at the center of changing social attitudes.”

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, help is available. Call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone now or text START to 741741 to message with the Crisis Text Line.

Follow Hanako Montgomery on Twitter and Instagram.