Depression is a serious problem in Japan, where it is considered to be the number one mental illness. The stigma surrounding this illness is such that many patients prefer to remain anonymous, even during online interactions. People suffering from depression are more likely to have suicidal ideations which make them more vulnerable to potential harm from cyber-criminals.
The fear of shame drives many from the stigma of mental illness to stay silent about their condition, preventing them from seeking help. The taboo of talking about depression prevents people from even considering seeking treatment, which results in a vicious cycle of the problem deepening.
It’s a serious issue that has serious ramifications. In 2016, it was reported that over 70% of the population in Japan were either clinically or sub-clinically affected by depression. With one in four people expected to suffer from the condition in the near future, it’s clear that this is a significant issue.
The Rise In Online Interactions
It’s not just a stigma issue, as the fear of humiliation keeps many from seeking help even when they feel they need it. Technology, especially the Internet, has enabled patients to seek information and make connections with others, even when they feel afraid to speak to a real person about their condition.
In recent years, virtual communities have arisen online where people with depression or anxiety can meet and discuss their conditions in an anonymous space. These online groups have enabled patients to share their experiences and connect with others who understand what they are going through. Patients report that these platforms have positively impacted their quality of life, by allowing them to feel less alone and more comfortable seeking help when needed.
Depression and anxiety are the second and third most common mental health issues in Japan. Over the past few years, many online forums have popped up where people can openly discuss these illnesses and their experiences, leading many to describe this phenomenon as the ‘mega-marketing’ of depression and anxiety in Japan.
Depression In The Digital Age
These forums have enabled patients to seek information and advice about depression and anxiety in a way that wasn’t previously possible. Despite the stigma surrounding mental health issues in general, many online communities have become home to patients who feel willing to speak about their experiences. The anonymity of the Internet has provided a degree of protection, enabling patients to explore their condition and possible treatment options without fear of humiliation.
The most popular of these forums is called Depressed Gen. According to the Genki Project, a Japanese research organization that surveys hundreds of these communities, over 40,000 people come to the site every month, asking questions and getting advice from volunteers and experts. The organization also found that three quarters of the participants said that the information they got from the forum helped them to cope with their depression, while one in four found it gave them a better understanding of the condition.
This kind of outreach is valuable, as it allows doctors and therapists to gain a better understanding of the issues faced by patients, as well as identify new treatment options. Forums such as these can also provide valuable data about the effectiveness of different therapies for depression and anxiety, helping clinicians to recommend the best treatments for their patients based on the results of objective studies.
The Great Impact Of Social Media
The growth of Social Media in recent years has enabled patients to find support and information where they want it, when they need it. Facebook, in particular, has played a great role in connecting people with depression and anxiety with each other, as well as with mental health professionals, enabling them to offer their support more effectively.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders examined the use of online forums by people with depression and anxiety in order to gain a better understanding of how these platforms can be used to improve their mental well-being. The researchers found that participants used the forums to seek advice, discuss their experiences and feelings, and connect with others who understand what they are going through.
The study also identified several key characteristics that can help improve the mental health of users of online forums for people with depression and anxiety. These included:
- Frequent and active use
- A desire to understand and better understand the feelings and experiences of others
- An openness to various perspectives
- Having a sense of humor
- A belief that trying new things will help improve one’s quality of life
- A desire to reduce isolation
- A better ability to concentrate and work through problems
Many people with depression and anxiety, especially those living in Japan, have found great benefit from social media in helping them to cope with their conditions and find the support they need. Those who have used these forums say that they’ve helped them to feel less alone, to understand the experiences and feelings of others, and to gain a greater sense of hope and motivation for the future.
Addressing The Stigma
Despite the importance of these forums, the stigma surrounding mental health issues in Japan is such that many patients feel they need to keep their identities hidden. Even when they want to engage with others online, they often feel that they have to hide their condition, as it’s considered extremely shameful to admit to having a mental illness.
The fear of being stigmatized is such a deterrent to seeking help that even those who desperately need it are afraid to ask for help. For example, nearly 40% of the participants in a University of Michigan study on mental illness in China reported that they wouldn’t even consider seeking help for depression, as they were afraid of being labeled.
There’s also the issue of safety. Even those who want to share their experiences with others are wary of meeting up with people they don’t know in person, especially ones living in other countries. The stigma associated with mental illness, particularly in Japan, combined with the fear of violence prevents many people with these conditions from meeting new people and engaging with society at large.
Suicide And Cyber-Criminals
It’s a common misconception that people with depression and anxiety are more likely to commit suicide. While the conditions are certainly associated with a higher risk of suicide, the truth is that people with depression and anxiety are more vulnerable to being victimized by cyber-criminals. Especially in Japan, where cyber-security concerns are significant, many patients with these conditions are targeted by online predators who want to dupe them into giving away personal information or committing immoral acts on the Internet.
The stigma associated with depression and anxiety makes it much more difficult for people to come forward and report these crimes. Even when they want to, they often don’t know where to turn. The fear of being ridiculed or labeled as weak prevents many from seeking help even when it’s readily available.
Even the discussion of mental health issues in Japan can be difficult. Despite the advancement of technology and the potential it offers to improve the lives of those with mental illness, the stigma associated with these conditions remains. This preventative medicine, which could easily help millions, is still difficult to discuss.
Depression and anxiety aren’t going away, which means there’s always going to be a demand for physicians, therapists, and pharmaceutical companies to continue to provide services to those who need them. As more and more people are turning to the Internet to find the help they need, it’s an issue that’s going to continue to pop up more frequently.