Taeko Watanabe, whose son Yuki who committed suicide in 2008, talks in front of his portrait at her home in Akita, Japan February 9, 2019. REUTERS/Elaine Lies
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Yuki, who was 29 when he died in 2008, was one of many who committed suicide that year in Akita prefecture, 450 kilometers north of Tokyo. For nearly two decades, Akita had the highest suicide rate in all of Japan, which itself has the highest rate in the Group of Seven.Watanabe, who contemplated suicide herself after Yuki's death, now leads a suicide survivors group, part of national efforts that have brought Japanese suicides down by nearly 40 percent in 15 years, exceeding the government target.Akita, with a population of just 981,000, now has one of the largest citizen help networks in Japan.GATEKEEPERSAkita also has an ever-growing network of "gatekeepers" -- people trained to identify those contemplating suicide and, if needed, put them in touch with help.3,000 people in Akita have been trained since 2017 and the goal is 10,000, or one for each 100 people, by 2022 .Japan's suicides have fallen from the 2003 peak to 20,598 while the rate dropped from 27 per 100,000 to 16.3 .
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