Report Hikikomori was first thought to be a Japanese-specific sociocultural effect, but experts now say it is a worldwide phenomenon.

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Scientists are now one step closer to providing better care for a rising mental health phenomenon: Hikikomori, or pathological social withdrawal.

Hikikomori stems from hikikomoru, a compound verb made up of the Japanese characters for “to pull back” and “to seclude oneself.” Extreme social withdrawal has been observed among Japanese youth since the 1970s and by the 1990s it was so common as to warrant its own descriptor. Today, it’s estimated that at least one million people in Japan experience extreme social withdrawal.

Hikikomori was first thought to be a Japanese-specific sociocultural event, but experts now acknowledge anyone anywhere can experience the features of hikikomori. It’s also becoming more common.

In a new study published in the journal Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, researchers at Kyushu University in Japan reveal a breakthrough: There are specific blood biomarkers linked to hikikomori. These biological signatures are strong enough that researchers could identify who experiences extreme social withdrawal and who does not from their blood. One day, these biomarkers may lead to novel and much-needed treatments.

Takahiro Kato is the study’s senior author and an associate professor at Kyushu University. He’s also a leading expert in the study of hikikomori and established the first, and currently only, research clinic which specifically focuses on hikikomori in the world. In the past, Kato has examined the biological basis of depression. He tells me he suspected he might also be able to identify biological factors linked to hikikomori.

His clinic provides several forms of support for individuals with hikikomori and their families. Kato is currently “developing an early consultation system for shut-ins who are unable to leave their homes by using remote communication robots and avatars,” he tells me. Yet the identification of biomarkers could lead to other solutions, such as supplementing certain therapies with medication.


Scientific paper:

 
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