Suicides, depression cost Japan 32 billion dollars

Suicides and depression cost the Japanese economy almost 32 billion dollars last year on top of their human toll, the government said Tuesday, the first time it released such an estimate.

Welfare payments and medical costs for the depressed, the lost incomes of those in care and those who killed themselves, and other factors came to 2.68 trillion yen (31.8 billion dollars) last year, the government said.

The figure included an estimate of 1.9 trillion yen worth of income that could have been earned by the 26,500 people aged 15 to 69 who killed themselves in 2009, had they chosen to live and work one more year.

Japan, a country of about 127 million people, has one of the world's highest suicide rates, with 32,845 people killing themselves last year, the 12th year in a row when the number was over 30,000.

The World Health Organisation says the annual suicide rate per 100,000 is 35.8 for men, the more at-risk gender, compared with 10.1 in Britain. Seven countries have a higher rate, including Belarus at 63.3 per 100,000 men.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan, a former grassroots activist, has pointed to the suicide numbers as proof of what he believes is wrong with the country, with too many people suffering economically and emotionally.

"There are many causes of suicides. Decreasing them would be one way to build 'a society with a minimum level of unhappiness'," he said Tuesday, referring to one of his political slogans.