Japan is Preventing Suicides at Train Stations With a Simple Trick

Japan’s railway stations have dealt with a spiraling suicide problem, but with one simple of psychology, it has managed to make those numbers plummet.

Japan is known for its state of the art railway network, with bullet train travel a reality and so-called “invisible” trains on the horizon. That innovative and largely unparalleled train network has come with a dark cost. Some of Japan’s train stations regularly grind to halt, not because of the trains themselves, but rather people taking their own lives.

In fact, the problem has become so bad that one of Tokyo’s train stations, Shin-Koiwa Station, has developed a reputation as the “suicide station”.

Japanese officials are working hard to try to combat this problem. This involves national action strategies and more targeted prevention techniques.

Japan has one of the highest suicide rates when squared against its relatively small population, so broader health schemes that can ascertain why this is happening will be key. However, strategies that focus on how engineers and train companies can make train suicides in particular less accessible has become an important prevention strategy.

One approach has been to install platform barriers that largely prevent access to the trains except during boarding or stepping off the trains themselves. However, these floor-to-ceiling installations are difficult to install in some existing buildings, meaning that Japan has needed to find other solutions.

Finding the Light

Some railway operators have installed blue LED lights that shine down on the platforms from above. This might sound curious at first, but it’s based on a limited but developing body of research that finds certain colors of lights have different effects on behavior. In this case, the blue lights may work in a couple of ways.

The blue light that at stations on Tokyo’s Yamanote Line seems to have a calming effect on riders. This may be down to a property of the light itself. It is clear and bright without being glaring.  Visibility is good with blue light, which may help to remove a sense of threat.

One other theory is that the blue lights actually overlap with our perceptions of authority. Blue LEDs give off very clear light that make it harder to engage in covert behavior. Such lights are often used in official settings, for example in businesses like supermarkets, police stations and, in some cases, hospitals.

Researchers think that these subtle psychological cues may drive down suicidal ideation by changing perceptions of the train platforms from an impersonal area to one that is being watched.

Admittedly, scientists aren’t yet clear how and exactly why this works, but research suggests it does.

One study found that decreasing suicide rates since 2009 in some of Japan’s stations directly tally with the introduction of the blue lights. While this might be explained away to some extent by a greater awareness surrounding suicidal ideation and therefore a greater likelihood of others spotting crisis behavior, other research has found that there isn’t a sympathetic effect from this intervention.

To put it another way, stations surrounding those with blue LED lighting do not experience the same fall in suicide cases. That points to the scope of the LED installations being limited. On a more positive reading, though, there really does seem to be something about light intervention that causes a limited but meaningful change.

It should be noted that this intervention rarely happens alone. For example, Shin-Koiwa has employed several other tactics in tandem with the blue lighting. For example, they pipe in calming music and use video screens to show inspiring and calming scenes. Even without those, though, the blue lights appear to have an effect.

The impact of blue lighting intervention has been so marked that several places around the world have adopted the tactic in order to try to tackle suicides in their own stations.

The UK, as one example, has shown great interest in this intervention. Gatwick airport has rail connections and had been struggling to prevent suicides. The installation of the blue lights appears to have contributed to a fall in such incidents. The UK’s Network Rail has said it has also heard reports that the lights may be reducing incidents of vandalism and other crimes.

Limitations of Blue Lights

Of course, blue lighting and mood music do not tackle the root causes of suicidal behavior, and it is critical that we look at those with as much interest and determination.

Nevertheless, a life saved is a life that can be helped to flourish once more. Interventions like this that can help to prevent suicides in known “hotspots” may be one inexpensive but important tool for tackling mental health in our communities and helping people at crisis point.

Related at Care2

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

40 comments

Ruth S
Ruth S2 months ago

Thanks.

SEND
Filomena C
Filomena C2 months ago

Thanks!

SEND
Filomena C
Filomena C2 months ago

Good work!

SEND
Winn A
Winn A2 months ago

Thanks

SEND
Winn A
Winn A2 months ago

Noted

SEND
Cindy S
Cindy Smith2 months ago

wish I lived there.

SEND
Lisa M
Lisa M2 months ago

Noted.

SEND
Lisa M
Lisa M2 months ago

Noted.

SEND
Sheila M
Sheila Miller2 months ago

Thank you for this article. I did not know about the use of lights. What people need when dealing with depression is support. Be there for someone and it may work wonders.

SEND
Danii P
Past Member 2 months ago

tyfs

SEND