A whopping 1.5 million working-age people in Japan have been affected by Hikikomori, a phenomenon that is characterized by social withdrawal syndrome, depression, longstanding periods of stress and anxiety, a survey by the country has revealed.

The socially avoidant behavior has been linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced lockdowns and government-mandated social isolations, The Guardian reported.

The government poll conducted by the cabinet office in November on 30,000 people in Japan between the ages of 10 and 69 found that 2% of those in the 15-62 age group had Hikikomori, The Guardian reported.

The government survey also noted a growing example of more people socially withdrawing after quitting their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. At least 18% of the total recluses were aged between 15 and 39 and 20% of those aged between 40 and 64, Economic Times reported.

Among those aged between 40 and 64, 44.5% said their behavior was linked to them leaving their jobs, while 20.6% mentioned the pandemic.

What is Hikikomori

Hikikomori was first defined in the 1990s in a book written by Tamaki Saito, Britannica reported. Subsequently, a 2010 survey found that at least 1.2 million of the country's population lived with this condition.

The people who have experienced the condition are also called Hikikomori.

It is largely prevalent in young adults who isolate themselves from others and retreat in their homes for months and even years. Psychologists attribute this condition to a wide range of issues such as dysfunctional family settings, the country's highly competitive and demanding education system, and the constant pressure on the younger people to secure a good job to maintain a given social standard, the Economic Times reported.

The Japanese traditional family structure has also contributed to the explosion in Hikikomori. Japan practices filial piety, which is showing respect to one's parents and taking care of them in their old age. This somewhat poses a threat to the mental well-being and triggers a sense of guilt when the obligation isn't fulfilled.

Researchers are reportedly still debating over whether this is a culture syndrome or a psychological disorder.

Consequences of Hikikomori

Even as it hasn't yet been conclusively defined as a mental illness, it often co-occurs with psychological episodes, Britannica reported. The accompanying conditions include autism spectrum disorder, mood disorders, psychotic disorders, and personality disorders. The wide-ranging condition can cause societal harm also by decreasing productivity, giving rise to unemployment issues, and demographic issues like an aging population and a declining birth rate.

Some local authorities have decided to take steps to help the recluse. A ward in Tokyo, Edogawa, will reportedly hold socializing events on the Metaverse to give people a chance to socialize.

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