The number of young people committing suicides in Japan severely increased in 2020 at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
The country’s education ministry said it was the highest figure since records began to be kept in 1980, reported Kyodo.
The ministry report said juvenile suicides rose by 140 compared with a year earlier and were over twice as high in August alone at 64 cases.
There were 138 suicides by female high school students, up 71, while among male high school students the number increased by 21 to 191.
Junior high school students accounted for 136 cases and elementary school students for 14, according to the data.
In 2020, the government requested a nationwide school closure from March due to the coronavirus pandemic and a subsequent state of emergency meant many schools remained closed until May or June.
The ministry said the main reasons for juvenile suicide remained to be poor academic performance and uncertainty concerning future careers.
Father Marco Villa, secretary general of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, told Asia News that the “problem” of suicide has been “growing among children.”
“The main cause of these deaths is bullying, which is also growing among girls,” said the priest who spent years in Japan as a missionary.
“School reopening is always a delicate moment,” he said, adding that the lockdown “has further boosted psychological online bullying.”
“Schools have counselling services and teachers who deal with these situations, but children struggle with their feelings and find it hard to reach out to them,” said Father Villa.
He said most of the time, “families don’t see the problem until physical symptoms develop.”
The priest said that children in Japan “carry a heavy burden in a society where competitiveness is already very high in school.”
“Those who struggle with this weight feel cut off,” added Father Villa.
The education ministry, meanwhile, expressed hope that the use of tablet computers, which it plans to distribute to elementary and junior high school students, will help in monitoring children’s mental health.