Light Ring. works to prevent suicide and isolation by fostering and supporting "Youth Gatekeepers," who act as close supporters for children and youth in distress. We interviewed Ms. Ayaka Ishii, the Representative Director.
Could you tell us about your background and why you started the organization?
There were two main reasons: first, I suffered from mental health myself as a student, and second, my father passed away from alcoholism when I was a senior in high school. As I thought about the reason for my father’s death, I felt that mental illness could have been prevented. There was no one around him who could help, save, or forgive him, hence he became dependent on alcohol. I realized the lack of preventive mechanisms in society, and I wanted to create a society where everyone has a counselor where they can confess how they honestly feel. I launched this organization to have gatekeepers that provide familiar counselors, in order to reach out to people like my father who are suffering alone.
What were the most difficult and positive aspects of the launch?
The difficulty is the divide between those who support and those who are supported. There is a lack of understanding in society to support the supporters. It is easy for the government to support counselors who support the youth feeling suicidal, but it continues to be a challenge for people to understand the needs of wanting to support their friends. There are many inquiries such as, "Why do you support the friend who listens, not the person who wants to die?” However, many troubled youth confide to their friends things they will not tell adults or counselors. The gatekeepers are the first people to notice the SOS from such friends. We have been doing this for 10 years, but it is still difficult for people to understand the reality and to collaborate with us.
Positive aspect is when supporters share their problems with us.
They are usually told by their friends not to tell anyone, and they feel they must keep their promise. Supporters feel glad that they found LightRing. and are finally able to express their concerns.
Please tell us about the use of FIT funds.
We are continuing to develop ringS, a place for gatekeepers in need of support. We are using the funds to pay for advisors, staff, support staff, and transportation costs. We have been able to increase the number of facilitators and provide more careful support.
Have you been affected by the Covid-19 environment?
Many students forced to spend time alone begin feeling self-denial, thinking that they have communication problems and cannot make friends. Gatekeepers, who are the first to notice the SOS, are becoming more and more necessary. The lack of understanding from the government is an important issue.
Please tell us about your future plans.
I hope to make gatekeeper training compulsory education like in the UK and Singapore. I want to create a society where every youth can receive and give support to their friends. We would also like to expand the project not only in Tokyo, but throughout Japan, and connect the gatekeeper communities in each region. Right now we have participants in Osaka and Shiga as well through an online platform.
What are the important skills for Youth Gatekeepers?
There are two things that differentiate us from professionals. The ability to sense abnormalities and the ability to connect to specialists. The ability to notice abnormalities means that Youth Gatekeepers may notice alerts through SNS, etc. at an earlier time than the outreach of experts. Listening to their friends is important, but it is also important for the gatekeepers to connect with a specialist, rather than trying to support them alone. This will increase the number of people to whom a child can confide his or her feelings and improve the suicide prevention capability of society as a whole.
The suicide rate among junior and senior high school girls has risen 1.6 times comparing August 2020 vs August 2019 alone, due to the spread of the covid infection,. More people are contacting us to join our Gatekeeper group after experiencing their friends' suicides. In addition to prevention (primary prevention), we are in a new phase where we need postvention (secondary prevention) to prevent followon suicides from occurring due the psychological effects on those left behind in the unfortunate event of a suicide.
Where does your motivation come from?
Encountering youth, who are supporting their friends alone, makes me believe in the needs of this organization. I don’t want a group of adults or specialists to support the gatekeepers, but to be someone who can listen and support those who are wanting to help their friends. There are some difficulties to sustain this work, but when I hear their struggles and their feelings that they cannot tell anyone else, I feel meaningfulness in this activity. I would like to continue to be an adult who can support the supporters, and expand my activities across the country.
If you are interested in supporting children and youth, we sincerely look forward to your support and cooperation.