Japan has appointed its first Minister for Loneliness this month after the country’s suicide rate increased for the first time in 11 years during the Covid-19 pandemic. According to The Japan Times, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga added a minister of loneliness to his Cabinet earlier this month, following the example of the UK, which in 2018 became the first country to create a similar role.

Following Britain’s lead, Japanese government created an isolation/ loneliness countermeasures office in its cabinet on February 19 to counter issues like suicide and child poverty. Sakamoto said in his inaugural press conference Prime Minister Suga has appointed him to address matters of national importance “including the issue of increasing women’s suicide rate under the pandemic.” He added, “(Japan PM) Suga instructed me to examine the issue and put forward a comprehensive strategy, by coordinating with the related ministry… I hope to carry out activities to prevent social loneliness and isolation and to protect ties between people.”

According to the BBC, Japanese women, in particular, have been struggling with depression since the coronavirus pandemic began a year ago — with nearly 880 female suicide victims in the country alone in October, a 70 percent increase over the year before. Taking note of the deteriorating mental health of its people, Japan has appointed a ‘Minister of Loneliness’.

After the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995 and the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami of 2011, many older victims had no choice but to move into temporary housing, where they later died with nobody at their bedside. Such solitary deaths, called ‘kodokushi’ in Japanese, have become a major public concern in Japan. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made matters worse. At present, Japan recorded more than 426,000 COVID-19 cases and 7,577 deaths, according to data from John Hopkins University.

Japan also had the highest suicide rate out of any of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations, at 14.9 suicides per 100,000 individuals, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.