Depression nearly tripled in Japan over last decade

WKC public health forum

Since 1999, rates of depression have risen 2.5-fold in Japan. Suicide has also increased, according to Dr Norito Kawakami, Professor, University of Tokyo Graduate School of Medicine who presented a lecture on social inequality in mental health at a WKC public forum on Friday.

Part of the rise is clearly attributable to socioeconomic factors. Dr Kawakami noted that depression is a condition that is particularly vulnerable to economic inequity. For example, stress is 1.5 times more likely to affect those in the lowest income quartile and in Japan this association is stronger in urban areas and among men. In particular, suicide and stress were associated with overwhelming debt burden and unemployment. Nonetheless, the economic burden on mental health remained considerably less than in the United States. Other factors such as employment status, occupational type, and the effect of parental socioeconomic status on children were also presented.

The past five years have seen rising interest in the subject of social stratification (for example, employment status, occupational type) and health inequity in Japan. Dr Kawakami and the Japanese Society for Public Health are calling for a range of responses, not only in the health and economic arenas but also in terms of social capital. A promising example was the traditional “mujinko” (community groups) where elderly citizens get together and form social networks. These types of groups are still found in Yamanashi Prefecture, where research shows that elderly functional capacity is strongly correlated with high levels of participation in these groups.

Dr Kawakami emphasized the importance of an interdisciplinary approach involving the social and health sciences in order to better understand and develop countermeasures for the impact of social stratification on mental and physical health.