The “hikikomori (individuals choosing to leave in extreme isolation)” syndrome, which began in Japan and has become prevalent worldwide, has been officially seen in Korea. Around 129,000, or 4.5 percent of young people living in Seoul, turned out to have been socially isolated or have not left their homes for more than six months, according to a survey. This is the result of the survey conducted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government of 5,500 youths aged between 19 and 39 and 5,200 households where young individuals live. The survey looked at people’s livelihoods by checking if they were “isolated” with no one to meet or ask for help other than their families, or if they were “secluded” by not leaving their houses. Across the nation, some 610,000 young people were estimated to be “isolated” or “secluded.”
Young people who are isolated or secluded usually have the experience of falling into sudden poverty or being bullied at school in childhood and failing to get a desired job as an adult. 55.6 percent barely go out, and 7 percent refuse to leave their room behind a locked door. As the survey showed that three out of 10 people stayed isolated for more than five years, and eight out of 10 people have depression, the hikikomori trend appears to have reached a serious point.
Japan has experienced that if the nation leaves those isolated young people alone, it becomes no longer a problem for individuals but a crisis threatening social safety. Fortunately, half of the people in a survey said they want to get rid of their lonely lives. The excessive use of games and social media fuels the trend. The government must be more active in identifying those youths and put in place psychological counseling and measures to return them to society before their despair and helplessness deepen irreversibly. We also need programs to support families to understand their children who choose to be all alone.
In Japan, the phenomenon of hikikomori swept the country with the soaring unemployment rate since the mid-1990s. Behind this syndrome becoming a global issue are the double-figure youth unemployment rate and the so-called “NEET,” which refers to 282 million young people not in education, employment, or training. The longer they stay as NEET, the bigger the likelihood of them becoming hikikomori. In Korea, the unemployment rate of young people aged between 15 and 29 reached almost 20 percent, and the number of NEETs increased by 84,000 annually. The youth employment issue must be solved to help young people feel a sense of accomplishment at work and create a strong connection with society to instill a sense of belonging.