There is a growing concern over the rising hikikomori population, which consists of young able-bodied people withdrawing from society. While viewed as largely a Japanese phenomenon, it’s being recognized by Western countries as well.
The hikikomori population consists of a variety of people, which can make discussing it a little tricky. Here is a simplified definition of a hikikomori:
- Self-removed from the workforce and educational institutions.
- Confined at home or in a single room for at least six months.
- Limited or no social contact with family members.
- No signs of having a diagnosed mental disorder.
Self-isolation plays a huge role in the hikikomori lifestyle, which has led to social misconceptions. Some people view them as lazy, spoiled by their parents, or simply enjoy being alone. However, Japanese psychiatrist Dr. Sekiguchi Hiroshi argues that society misunderstands them.
Humans are social creatures by nature, in fact, recent studies show that loneliness is deadlier than obesity. Dr. Hiroshi argues that hikikomori do not enjoy being a recluse, but are too ashamed to re-enter society. His studies show that most hikikomori feels worthless, undeserving of happiness, and are remorseful for betraying their parents’ expectations.
These negative feelings are so strong that a hikikomori simply wishes to disappear. Dr. Hiroshi believes that laziness, being spoiled, or enjoying solitude are not factors.
Dr. Hiroshi discovered that 60% of current hikikomori have work experience. Many of his clients have experienced heavy workloads (some reported 200 hours of monthly overtime) and abuse by superiors. For many 20-year-olds, this means their first job after leaving college was psychological scarring, which caused them to withdraw from society.
Dr. Hiroshi argues that instead of trying to diagnose a hikikomori with a mental disorder, their issues should be examed as a labor problem. There is no medical treatment to prescribe, and despite having a desire to work, most hikikomori are too frightened to re-enter the workforce.
It’s no secret that Japan has a toxic workforce that can lead to karoshi, which is death by overwork. Sadly, social changes and legislation to improve Japan’s work culture is far too slow moving, which makes it necessary for hikikomori to have a support network to turn to. Dr. Hiroshi suggests that counselors, meet up events, and providing information to family members can help a hikikomori re-connect with society.
Dr. Hiroshi says, “Hikikomori want to establish ties with society, but do not find it possible to do so. Social withdrawal may be their last-resort strategy for staying alive within this society, and the only option left for them to preserve their own dignity.”