Japan must battle "sickness of the heart"-govt

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TOKYO, Nov 9 (Reuters) Japan must push ahead with strategies to curb its high suicide rate, the top government spokesman said today, as the government issued its first annual report on the problem.

Japan has the second highest suicide rate among major industrialised nations after Russia, with more than 30,000 people taking their own lives in each of the past eight years.

''Suicide can be prevented. A sickness of the heart is a sickness, therefore it can be cured,'' Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told reporters.

The annual number of suicides in Japan shot up to more than 30,000 in 1998 from about 24,000 the previous year, and has remained stable since then.

The rise is accounted for almost exclusively by men, many of whom are thought to have been struggling with debt after the bursting of Japan's economic bubble of the 1980s.

The government has pledged to cut the number of suicides by 20 percent by 2016 with a range of measures including raising society's awareness of depression and promoting mental health.

''Suicide rates tend to rise when there is a recession and long working hours may also have an influence,'' Machimura added, saying there was a need for counsellors in the work place as well as in schools.

The report showed the highest rates of suicide in the northern prefecture of Akita. It also found that men are more likely to commit suicide on a Monday than a Saturday or holiday.

Tokyo train services are frequently halted by suicides on the tracks, and small groups of young people using carbon monoxide from charcoal burners to kill themselves often make news headlines, but the most common method chosen by Japanese is hanging.

There is no religious taboo against suicide in Japan and until the 19th century it was a form of punishment or atonement for wrongdoing.

Reuters RJ GC1240

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