Pokemon Go helping deter suicides in Japan

The jury may still be out on Pokemon Go's mental health benefits, but players in Japan seem to be having an effect.

(Content warning: As the title suggests, the topic of this article is suicide.)

The Tojinbo cliffs near Sakai in Fukui prefecture, Japan, have garnered an unfortunate reputation as a popular local suicide spot, with about 150 deaths in the last year alone. However, Japanese officials say that incidents at the cliffs have gone down recently -- and Pokemon Go may be responsible.

"People who contemplate suicide tend to go to quiet places before finalizing their decision," says former police officer Yukio Shige and founder of an anti-suicide organization, speaking with the Japan Times. "But since Pokemon Go was released, the area [around Tojinbo] has been bustling, even late at night."

Pokemon Go uses real-life landmarks as in-game hotspots, meaning public places like parks, museums, and memorial sites have become popular destinations for players. The area around Tojinbo, likewise, is home to several Pokemon Go landmarks, meaning that traffic in the area has gone way up since the game launched in Japan in late July. In the same time frame, deaths at the cliffs have shot down dramatically.

Shige theorizes that the crowds are acting as a deterrent for would-be suicides. One visitor who had come to the Tojinbo cliffs to kill themself told Shige the atmosphere "was not quite right for committing suicide" and, the Japan Times seems to imply, left without making an attempt.

Since the game's launch this past summer, we've heard a lot about Pokemon Go helping people with depression, by encouraging exercise and social mingling. As our own Chloe Bridges points out, the mental health benefits of games are not so cut-and-dry. But it's clear that, on a social level at least, the game is having an impact in many places. That we more regularly report on municipal authorities wanting Pokemon Go players out of local areas rather than seeing them as a social benefit doesn't mean those social benefits don't happen.

Obviously, Pokemon Go's popularity won't last forever -- it's already lost a good chunk of its playerbase, though analytics firm Newzoo estimates the app still brings in about $2 million a day -- and its role as a suicide deterrent at Tojinbo is only a temporary side-effect. But it may offer local authorities and anti-suicide organizations like Shige's some new ideas on how to address the problem in the future, after the Pokemon crowds fade.

If you or a loved one are considering suicide, please consider visiting the Suicide Prevention Resource Center or calling a hotline in your region.

(h/t VG247, Japan Times.)

Top image source: 663highland, Wikimedia Commons.