If you’ve ever watched a good tear-jerker and felt strangely happier afterward, you’ll know the power of a good cry. But, in our society, crying is often looked down on. However, it seems that Japan is actively encouraging schoolchildren and workforce to reap the mental health benefits of a good cry. In fact, a former high school teacher and self-styled ‘namida sensei’ (tears teacher) Hidefumi Yoshida, has been giving lectures about the importance of crying to companies and schools for six years. “The act of crying is more effective than laughing or sleeping in reducing stress. If you cry once a week, you can live a stress-free life,” he said to the Japan Times.
To raise awareness of how crying can reduce stress, Yoshida teamed up with Hideho Arita in 2014, a professor at the Faculty of Medicine at Tokyo University. They were inundated with invites to speak with employees about the power of crying in 2015, the year Japan brought in mandatory workplace stress-checks for companies with more than 50 employees.
Global mental health
Like many other countries, Japan has only recently started to deal openly with mental health issues some individuals experience. Prior to the late 1990s, depression wasn’t a term used widely outside the psychiatric profession. Nevertheless, the stigma persists. According to a 2016 London School of Economics study of eight countries, it was found that employees in Japan were the least likely to tell employers about depression, followed by Americans. In Japan, being overworked is a major problem. In fact, the Japanese invented a word for deaths caused by overworking, known as karoshi.
Yet, while Japan is known to have one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world, numbers have, thankfully, dropped by more than one third, 38%, since its peak in 2003. In 2017, numbers were listed at 21,321 cases. Among the G20 countries, Japan has the third-highest rate of suicide, behind South Korea, and Russia.
More than 90% of those who attempt suicide suffer from depression. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) released on World Mental Health Day in October, half of all mental illness begins by age 14. Though most cases remain untreated, despite suicide being the second more common cause of death wrong young people aged 15 to 29.
The WHo reported that depression is among the largest single cause of disability worldwide and it accounts for 4.3% of the global burden of the disease. The economic impact is therefore huge and the LSE study estimates depression collectively costs Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Mexico and South Africa and the USA more than $246 billion a year In Japan alone, this figure totals $14 billion in lost productivity due to employees calling in sick, or being unproductive when they do show up for work.
Globally, the gap between the need for treatment and provision is still wide. Annual spending on mental health is still less than $2 per person and stands at less than $0.25 in low-income countries. Between 35-50% of people who received no treatment for severe mental health disorders in high-income countries, varies to the 76-85% of people in low and middle-income countries.
But, how does crying help?
In a study of 30 countries, most respondents admitted to feeling better after shedding tears, while more than 70% of clinical practitioners actively encourage clients to cry. Three types of tears are produced by the body: reflex, which clear away irritants; continuous, which keep our eyes moist; and emotional, which studies have found to have certain health benefits.
In the early 1980s, Dr. William Frey at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis carried out some of the first research into why humans cry. He discovered emotional tears contain stress hormones that are flushed out when we cry. “Crying is an exocrine process… in which a substance comes out of the body. Other exocrine processes, like exhaling, urinating, defecating and sweating, release toxic substances from the body. There’s every reason to think crying does the same, releasing chemicals that the body produces in response to stress,” he said.
Evidence also shows that crying slows down your breathing, this helps you to relax and stimulates the production of feel-good endorphins. “Crying is an act of self-defense against accumulating stresses,” Junko Umihara, a professor at Nippon Medical School told the Japan Times.