I am not an expert.
I studied psychology for three years. I had a brief stint with Childline and I counsel (I say this loosely) my friends when they're in need, but I am far from qualified to talk about this topic. Nevertheless, I have made a few observations about Japan and it's attitude towards mental health issues, and I have also come to the following conclusion:
There seems to be no real acknowledgement of mental health in this country.
I have seen countless people running around who I know have issues but they're allowed to roam the streets freely. People who shout, clap, make other strange noises, people who talk to themselves or who try to talk to other people even though it's obvious that they're not in their right mind.
|Photo courtesy of Exposing the Truth|
I booked an appointment to see a psychiatrist. I filled out a form and spent no more than a couple of minutes in the room with the doctor who asked me all of two questions and immediately prescribed me medication to help me "relax". I remember thinking "that was quick; that was easy". If I was a drug addict, I'd know where to go next time. But in the UK, it's not common practise to prescribe medication to just anyone. I would assume that with the prescription of drugs would come a little bit of counselling too and there just didn't seem to be any of that.
From what I've heard, mental health, other disabilities and associated issues are often swept under the carpet. As a teacher, I've met children who have had clear behavioural problems that often go unacknowledged by the parent. None of the teachers were trained to deal with that sort of thing but we were expected to deal with it anyway, no matter how taxing or difficult it made teaching the class.
Some people don't want to acknowledge that their loved ones may be suffering with something because in Japan, mental illness is seen as a sign of weakness, or a sign of "bad blood". And no one wants to be seen as "that family" with "that kid". He's just 元気(genki) - energetic, is all. There's nothing wrong with my son. He's completely normal.
And you know, it's not dissimilar from the black community too. Things are changing, but older generations didn't like to acknowledge mental illnesses either. A case is point happened to me during university when I had a bit of a dark period. My grandmother's solution was to simply "put it out of my head". But it's never that simple is it?
It isn't to say that Japan is a complete lost cause however. I've seen some families where a member is clearly unable and the family members appear to be taking care of them. I see a lot more of them now then when I first arrived in Japan. But I don't think Japan is the kind of country that likes to talk out it's issues.
With words like 我慢 (gaman) - perseverance - and 頑張る (ganbaru) - to do one's best - people are encouraged to overcome all obstacles; large and small. But when they can't gaman or ganbaru anymore, what can they do and who do they turn to?
I've said it before, but I think Japan is a country that - while very advanced in terms of technology - it's about fifty years behind in terms of interpersonal and sociological development. I don't think I'll see a dramatic shift in my generation, but I hope Japan takes the steps towards taking better care of the psychological well-being of its inhabitants and removing the stigmas attached to mental health issues.