The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports on a health crisis that almost sounds like a horrifying punchline: thousands of Japanese people (mostly men) are sealing themselves off in their homes, and refusing to come out and interact with the world.

It’s a condition known as “Hikikomori”, and roughly translated it means “to be pulled inward, and confined.” In the West we might call it “acute social withdrawal,” and Japanese health officials are desperately trying to stem its effects on a generation.

The condition is believed to be directly related to the high pressures of Japan’s educational and professional culture, as they value success in work and school above all else. When one’s goals aren’t met, these people begin to withdraw from what they perceive to be their own failures, winding themselves into their bedrooms, sleeping during the day, and leaving only at night to eat.

Dr Takahiro Kato is one of the few hikikomori experts in Japan.

“In Western societies, if one stays indoors, they’re told to go outside,” Dr Kato said.

“In Japan they’re not. Our play has changed, it’s all on screens and not real-life situations anymore. There are cultural reasons also, a strong sense of embarrassment and an emotional dependence on the mother.”

The longer one stays in a state of hikikomori, the harder it is to escape it. Patients may receive months, even years of therapy just to be able to leave their homes and re-enter the world unburdened.

Dr. Kate believe the secret to curing hikikomori lies not just with traditional therapies, but with family counseling sessions that help to relieve the pressures placed on those within the tightly-knit Japanese family structure.

“Most case studies have only focused on the psychological aspect, but hikikomori is not just about mental illness,” he said.

“We’re working on the social and biological aspects as well and want to be the first to provide a multi-dimensional diagnosis.”

Only time will tell if hikikomori can be successfully cured, or if more frustrated younger people will be driven back into their bedrooms.

Via ABC News.