A new "minister of loneliness" has been appointed in Japan to address the increasing suicide rates, particularly among women, as the country struggles to promote females into senior roles.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that he has appointed Tetsushi Sakamoto to the new position to oversee the imposition of government policies to deal with social issues such as isolation and loneliness.
"Women are suffering from isolation more (than men are), and the number of suicides is on a rising trend. I hope you will identify problems and promote policy measures comprehensively," Suga told Sakamoto during a news conference announcing the new ministry.
Sakamoto is the current minister in charge of addressing Japan's declining birth-rate and was appointed as the Minister for economic revitalization when Suga was elected as the country's prime minister in September last year.
Japan's male-dominated society has drawn flack repeatedly for failing to include women in official posts. This month, Yoshiro Mori, a former Japanese prime minister, resigned as head of the Tokyo Olympics board for saying that there were no women on the body because they talked too much in meetings.
Official data showed that women had contributed the most to the recent surge in suicides. Apart from suicide, experts said that loneliness and social isolation could lead to other health risks such as dementia, eating disorders, and heart disease.
"A lot of women are not married anymore. They must support their own lives and they don't have permanent jobs. So, when something happens, of course, they are hit very, very hard," experts said.
Sakamoto said that he plans to hold an emergency meeting later this month to discuss possible measures to address the problem. He said that the new ministry adopts measures to help people dealing with depression, loneliness, and isolation.
Japan has long been working to address the problem of "loneliness" in the country, which is home to the greatest number of "hikikomori" - or people that choose to live in extreme social isolation.
During the height of the pandemic last year, the forced government lockdowns and movement restrictions increased social isolation throughout the country. Japan recorded a steep rise in suicides for the first time in 11 years.
In October last year, the country recorded more deaths caused by suicide than those from COVID-19 in all of 2020. According to the Japanese National Police Agency, about 2,153 people had committed suicide during that month; higher than the 1,765 coronavirus-related deaths for the same period.