Science of Us
Wed, 30 Nov 2016 17:02 UTC
Linguistically, the word a combination of the hiku,or "draw, pull" and komoru, or"seclude oneself." The standard definition is "acute social withdrawal." The phenomenon was first identified in 1978 as "withdrawal neurosis," then further described by Japanese psychiatrists in the 1990s, before turning into a subject of national and international interest in the 2000s, being added to the Oxford English Dictionary as a loanword in 2010.
Now, Takahashi reports, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to mobilize the nation's shut-ins to contribute the world's third-largest economy as it faces a massive population drop. From a health perspective, that kind of self-enforced solitude is brutal: American researchers have found that loneliness poses an increase of risk in mortality comparable to obesity.
The prevalence of hikikomori also speaks to the culture of mental health in Japan. A 2010 Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease paper proposed that hikikomori is used by laypeople to describe other mood disorders that they may not be familiar with, and that mental-health professionals may use it as a gentler way to talk about other issues, since clinical depression and its ilk are so highly loaded. The researchers reference a 2008 study of 97 clinical hikikomori patients which found that 26 percent had anxiety disorders, 8 percent had schizophrenia, and 23 percent had some sort of personality disorder — indicating that what manifests as hikikomori may be the result of one or more underlying, and possibly underdiagnosed, conditions. A 2011 pilot study found that similar sorts of social withdrawal exist around the world; surprisingly, some Japanese clinicians thought it didn't demand intervention, while other countries recommended hospitalization.
Princeton cultural anthropologist Amy Borovoy has argued that the reason Japan has comparatively low self-reported mental illness isn't an indication of society-wide mental health, but heavy stigma. "Doctors, aware of the sensitivity of the families, avoid diagnosing major psychopathology to the extent that it is possible," she wrote in a 2008 paper. If Abe wants to bring the hikikomori back into society, it might require changing that culture, too.
Comment: Doesn't seem that there is much of a reason to leave the house.
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