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Friday, January 27, 2012



by Georgevine Moss

Mental illness has many forms. It can be temporary or life-lasting. It can be mild or severe. It is divided into many categories, each one with many different symptoms and as many different causes. It is a condition of the mind, and as long as everyone agrees that each mind is unique, then no one condition can be the same.

These days, physiology and socio-environmental elements are both considered as contributing factors in the manifestation of mental illness. Here, strictly from a layman’s point of view, we will reference the phenomenon of the HIKIKOMORI to address the latter and use it to spark a debate about the need for social change. We will also refer to the SCHIZOTYPAL PERSONALITY as an example of the former, and try to make a connection between the two factors.

The Japanese term Hikikomori is used to describe the individuals, teenagers and young adults, who have chosen to live at home, in isolation, for a long period of time, shunning social interaction, due to various personal or social reasons.

Two reasons cited for the emergence of the Hikikomori in Japan are interrelated. One is the educational system and the other is the economy. Simply put, the educational system is very demanding from start to finish (school to university) and then there comes the point where a flat economy and a bad job market leave these individuals without a clear goal in sight, without purpose in life, and a feeling of disappointment.

One could argue that these conditions aren’t unique to Japan. Students today face tremendous pressure in order to have a chance at higher education, a chance they might not even get despite having worked hard. Global economic conditions aren’t exactly shining a bright light on the future for them either, cutting dreams and desires short with impersonal ease.

Two differences between Japan and other countries could be found in culture, as in cultural pressure to excel, and length of time, when talking about the pressure resulting from a bad economy. But can we not say that the possibilities are there for the Hikikomori to become a more widespread phenomenon?

On the other hand, what if the Hikikomori condition is more than an expression of social pressures on specific individuals, more than a form of mental illness? What if it is the breeding ground of a shift? A shift where one’s life goals and his very purpose of living as perceived by the previous generation change? A shift that once is in gear will affect everyone?

The possibility is plausible. Social standards, practices and expectations have changed to a high degree. One may only consider the advancement of technology and its integration into daily, personal and professional, life to see a great part of that change. As for education and work, society has moved from the need for basic education to the need for higher and higher forms, and from unskilled labor to skilled labor etc. All these changes seem like a logical progression, natural advancement. But at the level we find ourselves today what is the next logical step?

If we only consider the educational system and the dire economy as reasons for the existence of the Hikikomori we could make the possibility seem even stronger. First, let’s, very naively, try to bring down the educational system as a reason behind the Hikikomori phenomenon.

If you search for a person to tell you of a difficult experience he had to go through that made him better at dealing with similar situations in the future it is very likely that you will find one. Traumatic experiences make you tough. To some degree at least, you would agree that that is true.

By that logic, a high pressure educational system renders young adults more than capable of dealing with the pressures and responsibilities of the life after. In fact, life after school would be more likely to look better in terms of benefits and rewards, and thus less stressful. But then comes the life after, and there’s no future, no stepping stone you can use to move forward, to engage and become a part of society. Not only that, but personal goals seem to be amiss or non-existent. What’s next? What if a change is needed, a change in expectations of what the next step should be, or even a radical change that starts from the beginning of the natural line of progression (i.e. education)? What is the next step in this natural line of advancement? And is it something strictly personal or something so broad as to warrant a social change?

Lastly, what if the Hikikomori aren’t “weak” or impaired in some way due to their physiology, but instead are in some way more advanced because of it? What if those people are the ones who, before all others, are capable to understand that a different course is needed? An insight that gets them stuck?

A 2012 Scientific American article talks about the existence of a gene variation-based link between creativity and eccentricity. Due to this variation, high intelligent people with schizoid personality, for instance, process information differently which may lead them to incredible insight. So what if?

For more information on this last subject you can check a related article, titled The Link Between Creativity and Eccentricity.