Half of Japan’s overwork suicides come soon after depression’s onset
Nearly half of suicides related to being overworked occurred less than a week after the person suffered from depression or other mood disorders, according to a labor ministry analysis.
Many of the victims had no history of seeing a psychiatrist or other mental health professional.
To certify a suicide as a work-related death, the facts are confirmed through interviews with the people connected to the person and documents on record, after which psychiatrists are among the experts who discuss the issue and determine whether the victim suffered from depression or a mood disorder, and if so, when and why it occurred.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry survey looked into 497 suicides (479 men, 18 women) due to excessive working hours recognized as work-related deaths between fiscal 2012 and 2017.
The number of days between the onset of depression or other mood disorders and suicide was “up to 6 days” in 235 cases (47%), “7 to 29 days” in 93 cases (19%) and “30 to 89 days” in 75 cases (15%).
Experts pointed out that it is important for companies to reduce stress on employees and for employers and other people to get a grasp on any abnormalities at an early stage.
In terms of age at the onset of depression or other mood disorders, 292 were in what could be called prime working years: 129 were in their 30s and 163 in their 40s.
In 201 cases there were “constant long working hours” and 88 cases involved “extremely long working hours” of 160 hours or more of overtime per month.
As for the working environment, in 177 cases the employee received “major changes in work content or workload” and in 109 cases the person “worked more than two weeks in a row without a day off.” Trouble with a superior was found in 92 cases and 60 cases involved bullying or assault in the workplace.
In 318 cases, the employee had not visited a psychiatrist or other medical institution for their depression or other mood disorder. In particular, 67 of the 88 who worked extremely excessive hours did not seek medical attention.
The survey results are included in the 2021 White Paper on Prevention of Karoshi (death from overwork), which was approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday.
“If a person is talking or smiling less, has trouble sleeping, or loses their appetite, it is important to pay attention to these symptoms,” said Kazunari Tamaki, a lawyer and secretary general of the National Defense Counsel for Victims of Karoshi. “Supervisors, colleagues and family members should not overlook any changes. Managers and supervisors must properly manage working hours to prevent overwork.”