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Suicides, Depression Take Toll on Japan’s Stagnating Economy

Suicides and depression will cost Japan 1.7 trillion yen ($20.2 billion) in lost economic output this year, the government said today as it launched a task force to address the problem.

Gross domestic product would be about 0.4 percent higher this year if there were no suicides or cases of depression, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare said in a report in Tokyo. Last year’s lost output was worth 2.7 trillion yen, it said.

The figures underscore how Japan’s suicide rate, the highest among Group of Seven nations, is adding to the country’s economic woes as well as inflicting an intangible cost on households. More than 30,000 Japanese took their lives each year since 1998, a statistic that is partly the result of the economy’s decline, said economist Toshihiro Nagahama.

“Japan’s economic stagnation plays a significant role in creating this severe suicide problem,” said Nagahama, chief economist at Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute in Tokyo.

There were 32,845 suicides reported in Japan last year, with the number attributed to economic hardship rising 13 percent to 8,377, the National Police Agency said in May. The nation’s suicide rate is twice that of the U.S., according to the World Health Organization.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan plans to use 920 billion yen in a stimulus package, the details of which are scheduled to be unveiled on Sept. 10, to safeguard a recovery that’s under threat from slowing growth abroad as well as the yen’s climb to a 15-year high against the dollar.

“It would be impossible to eradicate all suicides at once, but that would have a much bigger impact than Kan’s stimulus,” Nagahama said.

Kan’s task force aims to analyze data on people who have attempted to kill themselves and encourage teachers to educate students about suicide. It will also provide counseling for small business owners and people who have trouble with debt.

The World Bank forecast in June that Japan’s economy will grow 2.5 percent in 2010. GDP shrank 5.2 percent last year, the biggest decline since records began in 1955.

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