A seemingly increasing number of youths neither return to school nor leave their homes in our post-Covid world. Chronic cases seem to mirror the Hikikomori phenomenon identified in Japan, albeit with local variations.
to be inside
Hikikomori is when one experiences severe social withdrawal; a mental health phenomenon that impacts adolescents and young adults.
In Japanese, Hikikomori literally translates to "pulling inward, being confined", describing the isolation that people with Hikikomori suffer from when they become recluses in their parents home, unable to work or go to school for months or years.
"All Hikikomoris are otakus”
False: While some Hikikomori might be fans of anime or games, this is not a defining characteristic. A Hikikomori may isolate themselves due to a variety of reasons.
Signs of Hikikomori
Isolate themselves physically and emotionally from other people
Often show little interest or motivation to live life according to societal norms
Between three to six months of continuous isolation
Lack of in-person
Hear From Our Experts
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"What is Hikikomori?"
Hikikomori refers to people who isolate themselves physically and emotionally from other people for long periods of time. Officially, one needs to be isolated for 3-6 months to be considered a Hikikomori, but this term can also apply to people who want to isolate themselves and hide away from the world.
In Japan, there are kids who have developed a lot of anxiety from the school environment which prevents them from going to school. These children usually drop out of school and they are not skipping class. They do not go to school because they cannot establish relationships with classmates. In general, after cutting ties with their school, they gradually do the same with the rest of the world. Subsequently, these kids stay at home, with their family. Over time, they will find going out increasingly difficult, and experience interpersonal relationships challenging.
"What are some common behavioural characteristics displayed by Hikikomoris? How do we identify individuals who are at risk of becoming Hikikomori?
Behaviourally, Hikikomoris may avoid most kinds of offline social interaction, such as hiding away from family members and avoiding gatherings, and they may also show little motivation to go to school or to work. However, some Hikikomoris may also try to blend in with society, and may suppress their emotional expressions habitually.
Someone who is at high risk of becoming Hikikomori may show little interest or motivation to live life according to societal norms.
"Is Hikikomori a form of mental illness?"
No, it is not regarded as a mental illness (at least according to DSM and ICD codes), but this could be because it’s under-researched and originated in Japan. Hikikomori however, can be comorbid with other mental health issues like major depression, anxiety disorders, and avoidant personality disorders.
"What are the contributing/risk factors that can trigger Hikikomori?"
Some researchers think that Hikikomori can be brought on by an individual internalising societal expectations to perform well at their work or school, but being unable to do so. Generally, this is made worse in a culture like Singapore that is very competitive, when parents are strict and have high expectations for their children. Other factors include external factors like being bullied in school.
"Has self-isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic brought about more/worsening cases of Hikikomori?"
Yes, there have been more reports from schools and parents of such cases since the pandemic started in Singapore. There is a CNA news report reporting similar findings in Japan too.
"How did the Japanese-coined term Hikikomori become such a global issue?"
Hikikomoris were first observed in Japan, and has been frequently portrayed in Japanese media (such as animations), that have since become popular overseas.
To this date, there has been a lot of focus on the very specific Japanese social milieu of Hikikomori, as a necessary endeavor in understanding the particular attributes of the problem as found in that country. But the presence of social problems of such nature are by no means limited to Japan. Many of the high profile youth challenges are a shared phenomenon across developed or developing countries despite their histories, socio-economic statuses and cultures. While the specificity of the challenges may differ, the prevalence of the problem remains.
Globally, it does seem like the “anxiety disorders are associated with a significant impairment in various life domains such as in academic and social domains”. The international comparative studies in particular hold value as they may provide a chance to isolate similarities in the causes of anxiety that run deeper than the circumstantial factors visible within a single country alone.
"How can a friend or family member best reach out to someone suffering from Hikikomori? What can be done to help Hikikomoris?"
Don’t judge, don’t tell them to ‘wake up’ or ‘snap out of it’, but instead lend a listening ear, and try to be there for the issues that they may be facing.
"What are some available treatments for Hikikomoris?"
They might need a comprehensive clinical evaluation to exclude any psychiatric comorbidities. If a comorbidity is present, then relevant clinical treatment which may include pharmacotherapy should be offered. So psychological / clinical approaches are one of the possible interventions. There are also community interventions using non-clinical or psychosocial approaches and alternative treatment like animal assisted therapy can be considered as well. It will be ideal to have both clinical and social treatments.