Stigma surrounding mental illness is a major issue for sufferers, and can be particularly problematic in Japan. According to Ben Beesley, Event & Communication Coordinator for TELL (Tokyo English Lifeline), knowledge of mental illnesses and appropriate treatment options is still relatively poor among the general public here in Japan.

Based on one Japanese study, two-thirds of individuals with mental illness never seek help from a health professional because of the stigma or shame they feel. “This places such individuals at increased risk for suicide. As one in four of us is likely to experience a mental health issue in our lifetime, this places more people at risk in Japan,” explains Beesley. “Additionally, family members who have lost a relative to suicide are also at greater risk of suicide themselves due to the shame and stigma related to their loved one’s death. Finding safe ways to have discussions about mental health issues, treatment options and support is essential, and saves lives.” 

To raise awareness, TELL is planning a special event to coincide with the 15th World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th. “The theme of the 2017 World Suicide Prevention Day is ‘Take a minute, change a life.’

“As members of communities, it is our responsibility to look out for those who may be struggling, check in with them, and encourage them to tell their story in their own way and at their own pace. Offering a gentle word of support and listening in a non-judgmental way can make all the difference,” Beesley points out.

The team at TELL considered various ideas for events that would both raise funds and involve the community, but most of these would have been hard to organize with limited personnel. When the idea for a tower climb was first raised, Beesley says that the TELL staff didn’t really believe that Tokyo Tower was a feasible option. “We nearly shrugged it off saying, ‘They will never let us, but let’s ask!’ After a couple of phone calls we got a meeting with the Tokyo Tower Management. We worked hard on a pitch, had a few more meetings and looked at the venue, and next thing we had a date booked! They were very supportive and thought it was a great idea for a fundraising event. Now we have a great challenge at one of Tokyo’s most iconic buildings on September 10.”

The public can get involved in a number of ways. You can sign up at the TELL website to climb as an individual or as part of a team. (http://www.telltowerclimb.com) If you would prefer not to climb, you can sponsor a climber on Crowdrise, TELL’s fundraising platform. (https://www.crowdrise.com/TELLTokyoTowerClimb) “We want to encourage companies to sign up for the Corporate Cup—a team race event allowing corporate supporters to challenge each other in both fundraising and fastest time. On the day we will have entertainment, photo booths, food and drink giveaways and, of course, a prize giving ceremony,” Beesley says. “We are hoping that the Tokyo Tower Climb will help throw a spotlight on this important topic and start a discussion to bring about support and change.”

TELL’s regular Helpline telephone service is available from 9am to 11pm daily, and Beesley and his team are excited about another new development. “Starting from September 9th, as part of our World Suicide Prevention day efforts TELL will launch an overnight Live Chat service from 10.30 pm every Saturday evening to 9 am on Sunday morning.”

Finally, if you are worried about a friend or family member who could be at risk, call TELL or check out their website for information that could save a life. http://telljp.com/lifeline/worried-about-someone/