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Sanctuary In Suicide

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AP / CBS
Of all the economic indicators — jobs being cut, a slumping stock market — the grimmest measure of Japan's misery index is one number that's going up, way up.

The bell tolls for death by suicide.

Suicide in this Samurai culture is still accepted as an honorable way of atoning for failure, reports CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen, but this national norm is now a virtual epidemic.

It's hitting hardest those who gave the most — men now in their 50s and 60s — who willingly devoted themselves to company above family or children.

They sacrificed all building Japan Inc. Now, they are the first to be fired.

"I think about my debts all the time. I don't deserve to live. It's better to die," said one Japanese man.

Dr. Tia Powell is an American-trained psychiatrist practicing in Japan where men are taught not to seek help for depression or despair.

"What is more praised in Japan is to tolerate suffering. What makes a man, what makes a strong man, is to take it," explained Dr. Powell.

So only a rare few call suicide hotlines for help.

"They tell us they feel useless," said one counselor.

And help that Americans take for granted is not at hand. Japan protects its markets by keeping out many American drugs. That means Prozac and Zoloft, two of the most popular medicines for treating depression, are not available here. So people turn to the one relief they can get and least need — alcohol.

"If someone is at risk for suicide, and you get them good and drunk, impair their judgement, then you're going to make them much more likely to finally make that stupid decision to kill themselves," warned Dr. Powell.

By all indications, Japan's economic woes will get worse — more layoffs, more bankruptcies.

And more Japanese may decide that their only sanctuary is suicide.

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