The Anonymity of NEETs

     With most problems in society, there are clear signs of trouble. The physically disabled almost always receive medical attention and government aid, and those who suffer from material loss through fires or similar events are often assisted by family and the community. There are quieter issues that don’t achieve the same amount of attention, but are well known just the same. Sufferers from mental disorders, addicts of drugs and alcohol, and those that live jobless and homeless still have prominence in aid and support, but, in everyday life, they are often ignored, or even shunned. These issues can occasionally fly under the radar, without society’s wary eye on them, and often, when unnoticed, drastically inflate, leaving the lives of those affected completely devastated. When a key symptom in a person’s harmful struggle, then, is to remain unnoticed by society, the poisonous state can fester to an alarming level that can rob years of a person’s life. This existing problem is related to the economic term “NEETs”, and their severe subdivision, “Hikikomori.”

     The term “NEET” is short for “Not in Education, Employment, or Training.” The acronym was born in the late 1980’s by British economists who were researching the vulnerability of young people who were being denied classification of unemployment (NEET, Eurofound; Furlong). Many countries have seen a large rise in those classifying as NEETs in recent years. The alarming spike has caused a European economic loss in 2011 of approximately 153 billion euros (NEET, Eurofound). Even more alarmingly, 15% of long-term NEETs die within 10 years (Vaughan). Countries such as Great Britain (Vaughan), Greece, the United States (Gumbel), Taiwan (Jones), and Latin America (Foreman) have all seen increases in the group classified as NEETs. However, countries such as South Korea (Jones), Spain, Italy (Foreman), and most notably Japan (Kremer) have an even more drastic problem, first identified in the lattermost country as “Hikikomori.”

     According to Alan Teo, a psychiatrist of the University of Michigan, Japanese researchers “...define hikikomori as a state of social withdrawal for more than six months...”(Foreman) Often young adults that live with their parents, hikikomori usually remain in their bedroom for most of their time. One case remained confined to his room 23 hours a day.  They are often seen living on a reverse clock, and those that venture outside at all tend to visit 24 hour convenience stores in the dead of night. Even then, they often shop for anything they might need online, and live in reliance on family members (Jones). Many individuals voluntarily withdraw from friends, and any other social contact, choosing to ignore any attempts of communication. The problem has become increasingly severe in Japan, with the average of age of hikikomori being 31 years old (Hoffman). In Japan, the general public have become very worried as the problem has only continued to increase. General dislike for hikikomori has been inflamed as the public predicts shrinking tax revenue and government spending increases (90 Percent). All over the world, but specifically in Japan, a large subset of adults are highly unsuccessful in their lives, and finding integration into society impossible.

     Most problems with NEETs and hikikomori begin when they are still young and in school. Truancy and suspension are often common predecessors of NEETs (Furlong, pg. 564), and in many cases, a reflection can be seen in hikikomori. There are many different reasons why someone so young might withdraw from school. The stress might overwhelm someone unequipped to cope with (Kremer), a child might be bullied mercilessly, or a disease might forcibly withdraw a student from the classroom (Hoffman). The interruption of education can be frustrating, but quickly becomes more. Being removed from the flow can leave children and young adults behind from their peers. A feeling of failure sets in, and the subject can be overwhelmed with shame and low self-esteem. To step back in with their peers is impossible, and entering where they’ve left off can feel embarrassing, and somewhat unapproachable. Facing fears and shame can feel insurmountable, and a self-cycling pattern emerges. The NEET wants to put off school to avoid the mortification, but the humiliation only grows with each passing day. Not only that, but the uneducated face an even more difficult time entering the workforce later on. The earlier a NEET is born, the more likely they will remain one (Logez).

     Education isn't the only area of life that hikikomori and NEETs are born in. Entering the job market after leaving education is also a critical area where young adults tend to withdraw. In many places around the world, the economy has become stagnate, and education has become more and more irrelevant to the workforce (Logez). This atmosphere forces graduates to eventually fight for entry level jobs, and non-graduates to find work even more difficult to find (Hayman). The vicious atmosphere for each job leads to repeated failure for some individuals, and after many attempts, many young adults find themselves still at home, unable to make a living to sustain themselves. Feelings of loss of power, frustration, and despair settle in, leaving the victim paralyzed with an inability to hope for the future.

     Not all hikikomori are considered NEETs. Hikikomori are known for living secluded for twenty years or longer (Hoffman), and they eventually age out of the generally used age range of 16 - 29 of NEETs (NEET, Eurofound). Older hikikomori are particularly in more danger than their youthful counterparts. They generally tend to have caretakers older than themselves, and approach a time where their lifestyle will be challenged. The “2030 problem”, as it’s known in Japan, is the pinnacle of this hypothetical situation, as the oldest group of hikikomori, those in their late 40’s, will reach the age of retirement (Hoffman). Many will be left unsupported with their parents’ passing, and be left with nothing.

     Most NEETs and hikikomori live with family members. In Western cultures, there is usually a tendency to kick out family members that won’t support themselves. One notable exception is Italy, where family roots are stronger typically, due to cultural values. Other countries that have strong family ties include Spain, and, not surprisingly, Japan (Hoffman). In fact, Japan has a specific concept, “amae”, that defines family relationships and is key to understanding why NEETs and hikikomori have become such a threat to some countries more than others (Kremer). Amae is a concept that describes cooperative dependence expected in the Japanese culture from relationships. In family matters, this often has an expectation from parents to support their children, no matter the circumstances. This allows hikikomori and NEETs to remain at home with their parents, and to continue their unhealthy developments. Understandably, this abuse of amae and refusal to communicate can lead to the complete deterioration of healthy family relationships. Culturally, however, parents, and other benefactors, feel powerless. They’re resentful of the amount of effort and resources a NEET draws in, yet many truly feel that NEETs would be unable to survive without them. This confliction often weighs upon the subject of these thoughts. Relationships fall into complete disarray, and we see people physically supported, but completely left alone mentally. The complete and utter loneliness eats away at them, left to stew in their own seclusion.

     The behavior of hikikomori is both self-harmful and self-inflicted. Clearly a drastic lifestyle, the symptom often points to mental instability. Shame and self-hatred are recurring traits, as are feelings of helplessness and defeat. They are often under the weight of realizing they have become a burden to their benefactors and a disappointment.  Perceived uselessness and lack of choice are usually big factors in driving the humiliation home. Depression sets in, and some even become violent, lashing out to deal with the frustration. Some develop obsessions, while others take more lethargic attitudes. The solitude develops the mind into an incubator, and each person’s development is different, and equally dangerous.The final result is always the same, however: a person robbed in belief in themselves, and trapped by their inability to move forward.

     Many attempts have been made to curb the number of NEETs and hikikomori. Surprise interventions have led to nasty results by more violent victims (Kremer).  “Rental Sisters”, a program with trained young women reaching out to sufferers, has had better success, although it’s success rate has only been about 50% (Jones). Education has been challenged to adapt a more relevant role to the job market. Germany specifically has been noted to have low NEET rates with its apprenticeship programs (Gumbel). No matter how many government interventions, the problem, ultimately, remains a very personal one and will only be affected by two factors. Firstly, NEETs and hikikomori need a supporter, not for their physical needs, but their mental needs. NEETs and hikikomori are simply homeless people with a home, still lost without the means to cope with life, and what they need to do. Someone who they care about who consistently offers encouragement, can give them reasonable expectations, and give them some comfort outside their self-constructed prison is essential. The second factor is relighting their passion. In many cases, their lives become empty and meaningless, and there is no sense in existence for them. To quote Nietzsche, “If we possess our why of life we can put up with almost any how.”(Nietzsche pg. 33) NEETs and hikikomori must find a reason to improve themselves, and this will most certainly make recovery easier. Whether for themselves, another, or an abstract concept, passion will ease the burden of shifting the weight of their entire world.

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