'Detergent Suicide': Deadly Fad Rattles Japan

According to a recent survey by the Cabinet Office, one in five Japanese adults has considered suicide. Last year, the government published its first white paper on suicide prevention and vowed to cut the number of suicides by 20 percent in 10 years. It also committed roughly $220 million for anti-suicide programs to help those with depression and other mental health conditions.

The Japan Association of Chain Drug Stores asked its 190 members to voluntarily suspend the sales of detergents and chemicals that can be used for suicides.

The National Police Agency has designated Web sites showing how to mix the chemicals as a source of "harmful information" and has asked Internet providers to delete sites or pages that contain such information.

It said many people seem to obtain information on how to die with the gas through the Internet. More than 50 Web sites included instructions on how to create the poisonous gas.

"Deleting sites or information from the Internet does not lead to a long-term solution," said Mafumi Usui, a psychology professor at Niigata Seiryo University. "You can tell them to ban the word 'suicide' from the Internet, but people will find a way to use that word, maybe by substituting another word to mean suicide."

Usui, who has been studying suicides in Japan, said young people tend to use the poisonous gas method because many want "an easy and less painful way to die," which Usui calls a misconception.

"It may be easy to mix up the chemicals but it does not necessarily kill you easily," he said. "There is absolutely no easy way to die."

Usui said what many of those who attempt suicide are seeking is not necessarily death but a solution to their problems.

"It may be bullying, it may be loneliness, they may simply have a hard time finding a purpose in life," said Usui. "That does not mean they want to die but they choose death because they cannot find a solution to their problems. I think that is part of why they want an easy and less painful method. They do not necessarily want to die, but if they have to die, they do not want to suffer and they do not want to look gross or ugly."

Offering Life as an Alternative

While the authorities grapple with the nation's high rate of suicides and try to eliminate information on how to die, one man is trying to stop suicide by offering people tips on how to live.

"When you Google the word suicide, it shows all those Web sites and chat rooms that show you how to kill one's self," said Ryuichi Okita, CEO of Posi-media in Tokyo, a company that tackles social issues including suicides. "But no one shows you how you can solve life issues, which can give you an option to live."

A 31-year-old owner of a design company, Okita said he once suffered depression.

"I did not necessarily want to die but I certainly wanted to disappear," said Okita. "I wanted to disappear from everything. I luckily managed to come up with a few solutions or alternatives to suicide such as returning to my hometown. If you can find one solution or alternative, you may realize that death is not your only option for a way out."

Building on that notion, Okita created a Web site in March 2007 called Ikiteku (techniques on living) that shows survival tips from people who once were on the brink of committing suicide.

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