Inside Japan Inc.: Suicide as Salvation

"I just feel irritated, exhausted and disgusted," Naoya Nishigaki wrote before committing suicide in 2006. "I know the cause of my depression is definitely work."

Naoya wasn't alone. He was part of a growing trend in Japan—a trend especially prevalent among younger workers who are scrambling for vanishing job security. A stagnant economy has forced many Japanese companies to do away with their signature lifetime employment, lay off full-time workers and replace them with lower-paid temporary contractors.

Statistics from Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare paint a striking picture: the leading cause of death among the Japanese population age 20- to 34-years-old is suicide. One in three suicides is believed to be work-related. Meanwhile, this same age group files more than half of the compensation cases for work-related mental illness. Some are able to sue their companies for compensation, but others find death to be their sole solution. Prejudice and discrimination associated with suicide discourage the victims' families from reporting karoshi, which means the actual number of such suicides could be much higher.