Sawada Yasuyuki, Chief Economist, Asian Development Bank (ADB), in The Asahi Shimbun (December 18, 2020)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: tokyoaaron02)
While more than 2,000 Japanese deaths are attributable to Covid-19, the pandemic has taken a toll of severe economic, social and emotional impacts on large segments of the population, which may have led to the higher suicide numbers in recent months.
The reasons behind suicides are multi-faceted and complex, but evidence repeatedly points to the deterioration of mental health as one of the critical risk factors in Japan and around the world. The Covid-19 pandemic has induced social isolation, fear, uncertainty, anxiety and economic hardship, causing a lot of mental stress globally, which could lead to a global mental health crisis. What is worse, while physical distancing has proven effective in reducing contagion, it undermines real-world social interactions, networks and bonds among people.
This highlights the importance of promoting “wellness”, which is the pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of overall health. Wellness is multidimensional and leads to holistic health, happiness and well-being. It is central to development and is, in fact, one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (goal No. 3).
To keep high levels of wellness even while social distancing, access to digital platforms such as social networking services will be crucial. Digital learning opportunities will also be essential to ensure that students continue to study at home during the pandemic. Governments can play a critical role in mitigating the digital divide – the unequal access to online services – by increasing investment in information and communications infrastructure and making their services affordable and inclusive. Governments can support public infrastructure that promotes overall wellness, including walkways, bicycle lanes, parks, recreation centers and free sporting facilities.
Wellness will not only improve the physical and mental health of Asians but can also act as an engine of growth. It is vital for Asia’s post-pandemic recovery.