I traveled to Japan for a few days during the December of 2016 and the city was beautiful. There were artfully constructed buildings and walkways and the architecture of the temples was unlike anything I had ever seen before. But amongst all of this beauty, there was something ugly starting to rear its head under the surface. I first noticed it when I was sitting on the train from Kyoto to Tokyo. I looked around me and I noticed that everyone was wearing ties and suits and they were clutching briefcases as if they were all they had left. They all had one thing in common, they were all exhausted. I don’t mean that they were just tired from a long commute or they had missed their morning coffee. These people were completely passed out in their seats and you could tell that their exhaustion didn’t stem from just one long say at work. They were exhausted because of the number of years that they put into getting their job and a lifetime of severely hard work. I have to say, the first time I noticed this strange fatigue I just thought that people were working really hard and that was good. But that’s the whole point, I didn’t see what was below the surface and what finally shocked me into realizing the truth was an article that I saw in a Japanese newspaper later that week. The article read, “Is It Worth It: The Japanese Mental Illness Epidemic”. It illustrated that here are people stumbling home after 10 pm in their work-clothes in an obvious daze and there are men who center their entire lives around work. They have families but they don’t spend time with them. Sometimes after an especially long day they set up pods in their workplace to sleep. This is a snapshot of the mental depression and suicide epidemic in Japan. Depression affects young people much more than is let on by society and suicide, which has recently hit a spike, is a result of it. Much to the contrary of popular belief, mental health and depression have not been acknowledged in Japan for many years even though as many as 1 in 5 people will experience some form of depression in their lifetime. The mantra in Japan is that you should keep your emotions and your weaknesses to yourself. This phrase is repeated throughout Japan in a variety of different social situations. Thankfully Japan has finally realized the gravity of the problem and along with them, I have too. This article and this experience on the train completely surprised me and it was yet another instance of people not looking beyond the surface. It changed my perspective of how much is too much and where the world is lagging in treating mental illnesses and how we can improve. So, I ask, what’s behind the mask? Is Japan going to continue to sweep mental health under the door or are they going to confront it? Clearly something needs to change.
"I'm not lazy. I'm just exhausted from fighting my way through every single day." - Mimi Love
"Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all." - Bill Clinton
"We need so much more openness, transparency and understanding that it's OK to talk about depression as an illness. It's not a weakness. It's not a moral shortcoming. It's not something people brought on themselves." - John F. Greden