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    自殺対策基本法

    The Diet has decided to get tough on suicide through the only mechanism it knows how to operate: government programs and lists of new rules.

    The “basic law to deal with suicides” was approved at the Lower House plenary session with the support of both the ruling and opposition parties. The Upper House passed the bill last week.

    The law calls for research into the causes of suicides, efforts to ensure mental stability among workers and support for those who have attempted suicide.

    The legislation says suicides should not be dealt with as an individual’s problem because such deaths have been partly brought on by social factors.

    “Suicides have various and complicated causes and backgrounds,” the law says. “Measures should be taken not only from the viewpoint of mental health but also based on the actual conditions of each case.”

    The law says it is the central government’s duty to work out and implement comprehensive measures to deal with suicides.

    That part about suicide not being “an individual’s problem”–the Japanese version of the article doesn’t have the original from which that phrase was translated–resonates slightly differently here, I think, from the way it would to a Westerner. The Japanese tend to think that if you’re unhappy, it’s you’re fault for being so weak-minded. The proper attitude toward life is to work hard and set your jaw as you push through difficulties. The idea that some people might be living with little emotional support under circumstances that push them to their limits is not a common one here. In that sense, taking account of “the actual conditions of each case” could be a more innovative approach than that bland wording makes it sound.

    Japan’s high suicide rate is a heartbreaking problem, and it is indeed one that requires society-wide action. But I’m not sure that any federal government program could effect the change in attitudes that would be required to address it. The specific measures include more than just useless public service announcements of the “Citizens, let’s not be offing ourselves, okay?” variety, but they still seem to assume that “maintain[ing] mental health” and “support” can be legislated into effect:

    Under the law, company owners are required to implement measures to maintain the mental health of their employees. The central government must offer more support to those who have attempted suicide and to families of those who have killed themselves.

    The law also says the central government will set up an anti-suicide task force in the Cabinet Office chaired by the chief Cabinet secretary. The task force must submit progress reports on the government’s measures to the Diet every year.

    Whether any of this will succeed in convincing people that their individual lives have purpose and meaning, that their troubles are obstacles that can be dealt with and overcome, that it’s worth soldiering through for those around them who care about and depend on them, and that seeking help doesn’t mean they’re crazy–all of that remains to be seen.

    2 Responses to “自殺対策基本法”

    1. Alan says:

      Well, Sean, what is the job of any bureaucracy but to stubbornly legislate on things that any normal, non-bureaucrat would see as futile?

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      Yeah, I know. I don’t know that it’s the passing of the bill that’s the problem–perhaps something that consisted of block grants to local governments would have worked better? It’s just that the sort of sounds-good-but-what-does-my-lawyer-say-it-means? provisions suggest that it’s likely to produce, say, more CYA action on the part of companies (“See? We DO TOO have a mental health support program!”) than actual hard questions being asked by the larger society.

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