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Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009

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Finding satisfaction in being ourselves

Growing access to information and the ease with which we can compare ourselves to others is making people less happy in life, says psychiatrist Rika Kayama


Staff writer

Psychiatrist Rika Kayama is an outspoken doctor specializing in mental illness, a best-selling writer and a popular social commentator.

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The right medicine: Psychiatrist and best-selling writer Rika Kayama says many people develop mental illnesses because they have unrealistically high expectations about what they will achieve in life. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO

Her latest book, "Shigamitsukanai Ikikata" ("A Way of Life in Which You Don't Cling to Anything"), has sold 422,000 copies since it was published in July.

In the book, Kayama, based on her clinical experience and research, suggests 10 rules by which stressed people can live happy lives. The rules recommend people not cling to money, love or children — and not pursue dreams through employment.

The book, with its realistic and laid-back take on life, has attracted much attention — in part because one rule stated, "Don't try to be like Kazuyo Katsuma."

Katsuma, an economic analyst and writer of self-improvement books, has become an icon as a successful businesswoman and has many fans.

Kayama, however, in her book, says not everybody should work hard to improve themselves in the way Katsuma does — because some people are at risk of developing mental illness due to stress.

The 49-year-old doctor has treated such people for 23 years, and in pondering how their problems relate to social issues, Kayama has concluded that the way patients suffering from stress-related illness think about their condition has changed.

Decades ago most of her patients blamed themselves, but an increasing number nowadays blame others, she said in her book "Waruinowa Watashijanai Shokogun" ("I-Am-Not-to-Blame Syndrome"). Kayama's analysis was that the spread of neoliberalism (based on market fundamentalism) in Japan in the last decade caused intensified competition among people, which lead them to blame their illness on their colleagues, family members or others in order to shield themselves from the criticism that develops in a highly competitive atmosphere.

Kayama offers deep insights into the human condition and she seems to be a perfect fit for her role as a psychiatrist. But she says her job was not her first choice of career and she has never been carried away with her work.

Born in Sapporo in 1960, Kayama, the daughter of an obstetrician, entered high school in Tokyo at age 15 and hoped she would become a scientist. Upon failing the entrance exams for the universities she wanted to attend, she studied medicine at Tokyo Medical University, where, as a student, she started writing for a minor magazine under the pen name Rika Kayama. (She reserves use of her real name for her work with patients and her private life.)

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Working woman: Rika Kayama is shown in 1987 in Hokkaido, where, after graduating from Tokyo Medical University, she took a job as a psychiatrist at a hospital where she wrote articles for magazines on mental health. RIKA KAYAMA PHOTO

She wrote her first book, "Rika-chan Complex," while working as a psychiatrist in a hospital in Hokkaido in 1991. In it she analyzes various mental illnesses. Since then, she has written more than 90 books on this topic, as well as social issues and culture. She is outspoken about famous people who experience mental illness, including Crown Princess Masako, who she says suffers from being career-oriented but is at a professional impasse.

Kayama works at a Tokyo clinic and at the same time has columns in newspapers, appears on TV programs as a commentator and teaches at the College of Contemporary Psychology at Tokyo's Rikkyo University.

On a mid-November day, Kayama spoke with The Japan Times at her office in Tokyo's Harajuku district.

In your latest book, you said growing numbers of people don't feel that they live in happiness or are satisfied. Do you see a lot of these people at the clinic where you work?

People say the gap between the rich and the poor is widening in Japanese society, and I see this gap reflected in patients who come to the clinic. The clinic is focused on psychiatry, so everyone who comes has problems such as depression, sleep deprivation or fatigue. Although people can develop depression for no reason, there are causes behind the cases of many people. So I listen to patients talk about their life and I have found two different tendencies. First, more and more people in Tokyo face difficulties because they cannot find jobs or are forced to move out of their homes (because they cannot pay the rent). Some are threatened by debt collectors or suffer domestic violence. The realities these people face are clearly tough, and they need to solve these problems before receiving medical treatment. Second, many other patients don't have such problems at all. They are in a good environment. They have houses and dependable incomes. But they are not satisfied with themselves, feel empty and get depressed.

Why are people in the second group unhappy and unsatisfied?

Not in mental science but in social psychology, it is said that when people become rich, they seek fulfillment and want to think of themselves as different from others: They want something to live for. Such hope may be inevitable in a rich society. And it is good to seek something to live for. But, on the other hand, some people are blind to their existing happiness, and they think, "I don't have anything" or "I am not privileged compared with others." They are denying themselves, which is a significant problem. Because people have easy access to a lot of information nowadays, they can see themselves relative to others and lose their own way of evaluating themselves, saying, "Others make much more effort than I do" or "Other people are more successful than me, even though they are same age as me."

You wrote 10 rules to achieve happiness in the book. One of the rules is, "Don't try to be like Kazuyo Katsuma." Why is that?

There are people nicknamed "Katsuma" who aim to be like Ms. Katsuma. I have seen patients who are actually fans of Ms. Katsuma. They said they studied her methods vigorously but failed to achieve their goals. They blame themselves by thinking, "I am lazy," or "I am one of society's loser dogs (makeinu, a term used to describe single women aged over 30)." Even those who achieved their goals still think, "I am not as happy as Ms. Katsuma, and I don't find life worth living everyday in the way she does." Kazuyo Katsuma is a huge icon, especially for serious, hardworking women. I hope such women acknowledge and accept themselves, because they have worked hard enough and gained many things.

You debated Ms. Katsuma in the magazine "AERA." How are your opinions different?

We have different models of the human precondition. Ms. Katsuma trusts human beings and believes everybody can achieve something if given opportunity and education. I think it is difficult to give everyone equal opportunity. And even if everyone is given equal opportunity, their personality can affect how hard they work. There might be freedom in not working hard. Some people, despite working hard, may have accidents befall them and fail as a result. Life holds uncertainty. I think it's better to think that unexpected things will happen in life — extra bits, rather like the tabs used to glue together a cardboard box. Not everyone will be able to work hard and improve themselves. In that sense, I may not trust human beings. Ms. Katsuma doesn't believe there are people who don't want to make an effort. But I think it is human nature to be bad, lazy or dishonest.

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