Don't Jump! Japanese Use Blue Lighting to Reduce Suicides

By Nina Bai | December 12, 2008 1:24 pm

blue lightsFeeling stressed or sad? Before you succumb to the blues, try standing under a blue light. Several cities around the world claim to have reduced suicides, crime, and even traffic accidents by installing blue lights in the public spaces.

In Glasgow, Scotland, blue streetlights installed in 2000 have reduced street crimes noticeably. In Japan, a country notorious for its high suicide rates—authorities say in 2007 alone there were 640 suicides attempted by jumping in front of oncoming trains—two railroad companies have turned to light therapy. After blue lights were installed on station platforms and near railway crossings, the number of suicide attempts dropped to zero. Also in Japan, hundreds of blue lights have been installed along highways and rest stops. An expressway operator said trash cans near blue lights received 20 percent less garbage.

U.S. suicide rates, meanwhile, have steadily increased in recent years. Might it be a good idea to flood the Golden Gate Bridge or Wall Street with blue light? So far, there’s been no scientific confirmation of whether or not blue lighting prevents suicide or criminal behavior. However, research has shown that blue light therapy can help treat seasonal affective disorder. A scientific study in 2005 that claimed blue uniforms gave judo players a psychological advantage was later refuted.

Prof. Tsuneo Suzuki thinks the restraining effects of blue lighting could simply be due to its weirdness: “There are a number of pieces of data to prove blue has a calming effect upon people. However, it’s an unusual color for lighting, so people may just feel like avoiding standing out by committing crimes or suicide under such unusual illumination. It’s a little risky to believe that the color of lighting can prevent anything.”

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Image: flickr / Ken@Okinawa

  • http://tokyocounseling.com Andrew Grimes JFP, JSCCP

    An interesting post but, although a tragic loss of life, these numbers of people who commit suicide at stations are only a fraction of one percent of the total numbers of people who kill themselves in Japan every year. For example, According to JR East’s Tokyo office, suicides at stations under its control totaled 68 in fiscal 2008.

    I am a JSCCP clinical psychologist and JFP psychotherapist working in Japan for over 20 years. I would like to put forward a perspective on some of the main reasons behind the unacceptably high suicide numbers Japan and so will limit my comments to what I know about here in Japan

    Mental health professionals in Japan have long known that the reason for the unnecessarily high suicide rate in Japan is due to unemployment, bankruptcies, and the increasing levels of stress on businessmen and other salaried workers who have suffered enormous hardship in Japan since the bursting of the stock market bubble here that peaked around 1997. Until that year Japan had annual suicide of rate figures between 22,000 and 24,000 each year. Following the bursting of the stock market and the long term economic downturn that has followed here since the suicide rate in 1998 increased by around 35% and since 1998 the number of people killing themselves each year in Japan has consistently remained well over 30,000 each and every year to the present day.

    The current worldwide recession is of course impacting Japan too, so unless the new administration initiates very proactive and well funded local and nationwide suicide prevention programs and other mental health care initiatives, including tackling the widespread problem of clinical depression suffered by so many of the general population, it is very difficult to foresee the previous government’s stated target to reduce the suicide rate to around 23,000 by the year 2016 as being achievable. On the contrary the numbers, and the human suffering and the depression and misery that the people who become part of these numbers, have to endure may well stay at the current levels that have persistently been the case here for the last ten years. It could even get worse unless even more is done to prevent this terrible loss of life.

    During these last ten years of these relentlessly high annual suicide rate numbers the English media seems in the main to have done little more than have someone goes through the files and do a story on the so-called suicide forest or internet suicide clubs and copycat suicides (whether cheap heating fuel like charcoal briquettes or even cheaper household cleaning chemicals) and mirrors at stations, and now lights at stations, without focusing on the bigger picture and need for effective action and solutions.

    Economic hardship, bankruptcies and unemployment have been the main cause of suicide in Japan over the last 10 years, as the well detailed reports behind the suicide rate numbers that have been issued every year until now by the National Police Agency in Japan show only to clearly if any journalist is prepared to learn Japanese or get a bilingual researcher to do the research to get to the real heart of the tragic story of the long term and unnecessarily high suicide rate problem in Japan.

    I would also like to suggest that as many Japanese people have very high reading skills in English that any articles (or works of fiction which I appreciate this is) dealing with suicide in Japan could usefully provide contact details for hotlines and support services for people who are depressed and feeling suicidal.

    Useful telephone numbers and links for Japanese residents of Japan who speak Japanese and are feeling depressed or suicidal:
    Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service):

    Japan: 0120-738-556
    Tokyo: 3264 4343

    Tokyo Counseling Services:
    http://tokyocounseling.com/english/
    http://tokyocounseling.com/jp/

    http://www.counselingjapan.com

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