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Transcript of the Podcast:
Here’s a disclaimer. This post discusses loneliness and death. Please be warned.
In January of 2020, if anyone would tell me that I would have to go on this self-imposed isolation for months on end, I would have laughed.
As it turns out, not only did we go on isolation, we have stayed and managed to survive it. But imagine this type of a phenomenon that has been prevalent since the late 1990’s in Japan where people were retreating inwards and hiding out in their homes for decades on end?
There is word for that in Japan, and it is called Hikikomori.
Hikikomoris are people who are socially withdrawn often by their own volition.
They are currently 1.5 million Hikikomoris in Japan according to Tamaki Saito, the psychologist who coined the term.
These people are isolated socially, psychologically and spatially.
They are your modern day hermits, often not leaving their bedrooms for months and years on end.
The real reason why these men and women choose to become recluse is multifaceted.
1. There are young people who just stop going to school because they’re not able to keep up with the pressure of the rigor at school.
2. There are the youth who can’t land a job after graduating college.
3. There are retirees who don’t feel the need to leave home once their daily job that defined their existence ceases to exist.
No matter what the reason, there are a few things in common.
These people have either been bullied badly, or have conditions like ADHD and OCD and other mental disorders that have gone unchecked for years. There are also these people who seem to be overwhlemed by society’s demands to perform and conform to its standards.
No matter who we’re talking about, they simply can’t or won’t keep up with the times.
Call them people with social phobias, rebels, or internet addicts, it seems like more and more women are adopting this life style.
And here’s the bigger problem.
Most of these folks have family members who’re terribly embarrassed to acknowledge that their family has a member who is a Hikikomori. And that’s keeping them for seeking help for themselves and their loved ones.
Often parents are overwhelmed because they have to provide food and shelter and round the clock physical and emotional care for these helpless Hikikomoris.
So what do these HK do all day?
Usually they are up all night playing video games and chess with strangers online, and they surf the web and shop online so that they don’t have to leave home.
And they sleep late into the day.
I came across this phenomenon on a YouTube video where a 67 year old retiree who was a Hikikomori had died after slipping and falling in his home. Neighbors had complained of the smell after 2 months and that’s when a cleaning crew had found his decaying body.
So here’s my question.
This is a symptom of what is happening in Japan right now. But is there anything we can do to prevent such a thing
a. From happening in the first place.
b. People in other countries adopting this phenomenon?
Of course the govt. of Japan has started acknowledging this problem since 2 years and is offering incentives to people who are willing to leave their homes for even a few hours a week. And private companies like Rent-A-Sister, are offering services of women who don’t have enough medical training to be companions and coax these young men out of their forced solitary lives.
But, here’s what I think.
Most of these people start off isolating themselves initially with hopes of getting better enough to integrate into normal society. But as time passes, the shame and guilt gets compounded. They worry if people are judging them as spoilt or lazy. They start feeling like they have become powerless, and abandoned. Eventually they are left with no desire to do anything substantial.
But what if we create awareness and provide education to all our children that their lives matter. And there is potential in each and every child to make a positive impact in the world?
What if instead of prizing productivity and competition in our society, we see our children and youth for who they are and encourage their positive engagement?
What if we care for each other’s as humans and communicate as much in words and actions towards one another.
And what if parents who are in these situations stop personalizing this issues and see themselves as failure and seek the help that they and children so desperately need?