Okishita Masahiro (Jesuit Brother)
The author of this article experienced 5 years of social withdrawal himself when he was in his twenties. Recently, at the age of 54, he opened a special consultation desk to support persons affected with social withdrawal. Most people may be faced with quite different situations, but since I am personally concerned with this issue, I write here from my own experience.
For several years I was burdened with a refusal to relate to others. One day I confronted myself with my actual situation, but I was unable to change. Then I began to look toward the future based on my past experiences. Gradually I was able to get free from my past and, standing on my own as a person experiencing social withdrawal, I started to look rather at my own present and future.
Little by little, as I became able to speak about my experience, people often asked me “Why? What were the reasons for your social withdrawal?” It was hard for me to answer and I found it difficult to talk about it. I was told that I was not providing any explanation. In fact, what I wanted was to be accepted as I am. I did not want to talk about my case.
First of all, as happened with me, there are cases of social withdrawal where no reasons can be given. It may also be true that, since this problem could be disadvantageous to the person concerned, nobody wants to touch it. There could also be a danger of being misunderstood. Society does not yet accept such persons.
The Office of the Prime Minister conducted an investigation into the current situation of social withdrawal in February last year. Five thousand persons from 15 to 39 years old were interviewed. I have made a selection of the main questions from that investigation. I have brought together here various forms of social withdrawal in order to attain a wider view of the issue and reach a better definition. In this way I hope to make the results of this investigation available to people who do not otherwise have access to it.
Types of people living in social withdrawal
Question n.20 asks those who have withdrawn from society how often they go out. From the various answers given I selected the following:
- 5. I usually stay home and go out only to do things I like.
- 6. I usually stay home but go out to a nearby store.
- 7. I leave my room but I don’t leave the house.
- 8. I practically never leave my room.
A broad definition of social withdrawal will consider nos.5-8 whenever the same situation lasts for over 6 months. Semi-withdrawal is indicated by n.5 and social withdrawal in the strict sense includes nos.6-8. On the other hand, persons working at home or keeping house or taking care of infants are not included. I myself come under n.7 because I did not leave home.
There were 3,287 answers to the questionnaire, excluding 1,713 people who were absent from home, had moved away, or simply refused to answer. The estimated population aged 15 to 39 was 38,800,000 in the year 2009. Thus, about 1.79% of the valid answers, or 696,000 persons, could be included in the broad definition of social withdrawal. Among these 236,000 (0.61%) come under the strict sense of the definition, while the remaining 460,000 (1.19%) can be considered under the category of semi-social withdrawal. As for gender, the ratio of male to female was 2 to 1, or 66.1% male and 33.9% female.
With regard to age, 15.3% were from 15 to 19 years old, 20.3% from 20 to 24, 18.6% from 25 to 29, 22% from 30 to 34, and 23.7% from 35 to 39. The study seems to have been aimed at young people, but if it had been conducted for people from 40 to 65, the estimated population would have been double. I myself experienced social withdrawal when I was 20 and come among the 20.3% in the bracket of people 20 to 24 years old.
Persons under 14 (8.5%) began to withdraw from society and those between 15 and 19 reached the highest percentage of 25.4%. It was 22% for those from 20 to 24, 16.9% for those from 25 to 29, 18.6% for those from 30 to 34 and 5.1% for those from 35 to 39 years old. People believe that the issue of social withdrawal concerns mainly young people, but, judging from published studies, persons above 30 years old reach a figure of 23.7%.
Although not exactly reasons for social withdrawal, what prompted people to withdraw from social relationships was something different from those mentioned above. For instance, illness (23.7%) or unfamiliarity with the place of work (23.7%) prompted people to recede from society. On the other hand, job hunting and place of work put together total 44% of reasons for withdrawal. With regard to students, those who refuse to attend school (from elementary to high school) reached 11.9%, while in the case of university students 6.8% withdraw from the university because of unfamiliarity. Only 1.7% cited failure in entrance examination at high school and/or university. In all, the number does not reach 20%, which means that social withdrawal is not significantly connected with the refusal to attend school.
Most of the people (66.1%) answered that they do not plan to go to consultation centers and, on the other hand, 32.2% think they will. Some are thinking positively about it (15.3%).
When people were asked what kind of center they would like to visit, about 32.2% answered that they were thinking of some center that will openly listen to them. With regard to psychiatrists, 27.1% were favorable. Others prefer places near their home (20.3%) and free consultation (23.7%). One can deduct from this that people will prefer consultation centers nearby, those free of charge, and psychiatrists who really want to listen to them. Nevertheless over 40% do not want to consult anyone and think that their own case is different.
This group of people answered: Even if I visit such a place, I don’t think it will help (31.3%). I don’t want others to know my problems (18.8%). I’m afraid of what they will ask me and I don’t want others to know I have gone there (6.3%). Regarding other reasons given, 25% said that the questionnaire does not apply to their situation. Finally, asked whether they had ever consulted about their problems with someone, 50% replied negatively.
Types closely inclining towards social withdrawal
People closely inclining towards social withdrawal could be defined as those do not come under the category of social withdrawal in the strict sense. These account for almost 4% of the total population or about 1,550,000 persons. Most of their answers (Q. 7) were:
- a- I understand the feelings of people who stay home and never go out.
- b- I sometimes thought about staying home and not going out.
- c- When something unpleasant happens, I do not want to go out.
- d- I understand how people will find some excuse to stay home.
With regard to gender, over 63% of these were female and 36.6% male. Young people from 15 to 19 years old accounted for 30.5% of all the answers. Will this data be characteristic of people inclining towards social withdrawal?
In conclusion, the number of people in strict social withdrawal is about 696,000, of whom 460,000 are male and 236,000 female. On the contrary, the number of those inclining towards such withdrawal is about 1,550,000, of whom 567,000 are male and 983,000 female. Supposing that 1 million women have the same feelings and characteristics as people presently afflicted with social withdrawal and that these do not seclude themselves from society, we could then ask: What would be the motives preventing them from withdrawal and sustaining them in good health? I would be interested in knowing how women inclining towards social withdrawal are generally faring.