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Japan’s “May Blues” and Mental Health Challenges Post-Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic had an unprecedented effect on various aspects of life, including mental well-being. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25% in the first year of the pandemic, with social isolation playing a significant role. However, even before the pandemic, Japan had a term for mental and physical instability caused by changes in the environment, known as “May blues,” occurring in May when the fiscal year begins. Google searches for “May blues” decreased by 80% in 2020, indicating that fewer people experienced May blues. Experts, however, predict that as society opens up post-pandemic, more people may experience May blues as full disclosure of faces in April can lead to additional stress.

To prevent May blues, doctors suggest routines that can help prevent the condition, including relieving stress through communication with colleagues, peers, family, and friends. Eating nutritiously balanced meals, getting good night’s sleep, and participating in mental health initiatives can also help. The number of work-related insurance claims for mental illnesses caused by work-related stress in Japan increased by 35% from 2015 to 2020, while the domestic market for stress checks and mental health measures is expected to grow to JPY 28.8 billion ($214.7 million) by 2025.

Companies are also taking measures to improve the mental well-being of their employees. Marui Group, for instance, created the position of Chief Wellbeing Officer, who heads a resilience programme to enhance the understanding of well-being and how to improve physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Rakuten’s Wellness Department, under the leadership of Chief Wellbeing Officer Masatada Kobayashi, is responsible for measures that support employees’ physical and mental health, while the Employee Engagement Department is responsible for strengthening the psychological connection between employees and the organization. The Sustainability Department is responsible for social well-being.

According to a study published by the World Economic Forum and the Harvard School of Public Health, the cost of mental health conditions is projected to rise to $6 trillion globally by 2030, up from $2.5 trillion in 2010. Building a support system, both personal and institutional, can help address the mental health challenges people face in a post-pandemic world.

Speaking about the increase in anxiety and depression during the pandemic, the WHO said: “One major explanation for the increase is the unprecedented stress caused by the social isolation resulting from the pandemic.” Social isolation made many people feel lonely and disconnected, as physical distancing measures kept them away from loved ones and support systems. Humans are social creatures, and the inability to connect with others for a prolonged period can have a detrimental effect on mental well-being.

In Japan, May blues is not a new phenomenon. It is a condition that occurs when people find it hard to adapt to new environments, have difficulties building new relationships, have a strong sense of a gap between the ideal world and reality, and lose sight of the next goal, having been fixated on the new environment. The fiscal year in Japan starts in April, followed by a week-long holiday at the end of April. While the break helps some refresh, it only makes it harder for others to return.

Google searches for “May blues” decreased by 80% in 2020, suggesting that fewer people experienced May blues. Experts note that the stay-at-home policy that was in effect during the pandemic may have played a role in reducing the number of cases of May blues. However, as society opens up post-pandemic, experts predict that more people may experience May blues as full disclosure of faces in April can lead to additional stress. This transition comes in addition to other changes that typically occur at the start of the fiscal year and in new schools and jobs. For those who are susceptible to May blues, these changes can be overwhelming and trigger feelings of anxiety and depression.

To prevent or alleviate the symptoms of May blues, experts recommend a few simple but effective measures. Firstly, it is important to establish a routine and stick to it. This can involve setting regular meal times, sleeping and waking up at the same time every day, and making time for regular exercise or relaxation.

Another key factor in maintaining good mental health is social interaction. This can involve communicating with friends, family, and colleagues, sharing problems, and seeking support when needed. Engaging in hobbies or activities that bring joy and a sense of fulfillment can also help to combat feelings of isolation and loneliness.

In addition to these individual measures, there are also initiatives being undertaken by companies and organizations to support the mental well-being of their employees. Some businesses have appointed Chief Wellbeing Officers to oversee programs and policies that promote mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. These programs can include seminars on stress management, access to counseling and therapy services, and the provision of healthy food options and fitness facilities.

However, it is important to recognize that mental health issues are complex and multifaceted, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In some cases, professional help may be necessary to address mental health concerns effectively. Seeking the support of a qualified therapist or counselor can provide a safe and confidential space to explore and address underlying issues.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the issue of mental health to the forefront of public consciousness, highlighting the need for greater awareness and resources to support those struggling with anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. The pandemic has also highlighted the interconnectedness of mental health and other aspects of life, including work, relationships, and social interaction.