A young Japanese man who struggled for years with his mental health is tirelessly reaching out to fellow sufferers. He even went on a cycling tour across the country to talk about his experiences, trying to dispel the negative stigma that surrounds mental illness.

Having suffered from mental health issues from an early age, Takumi Hara, 27, thought he had fully recovered during his college years, only for his symptoms to flare up again when he began adult life.

Statistics show that one in four people in Japan suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives.

Takumi Hara speaks at a private high school in Shiki, Saitama Prefecture, on Sept. 28, 2023. (Kyodo)

"In the past, I almost died as a result of mental illness," Hara said in late September during the opening of his speech to around 40 first-year students at a private high school in Saitama Prefecture. He then spoke about the event in his life that took him from "rock bottom to being able to speak in front of all of you today."

While searching for his first post-graduation job during his third year at Keio University, Hara, who was the vice-captain of his university's basketball team, struggled in his relationships with teammates and worried about his future. Unable to sleep at night, he attempted suicide by drinking bleach.

He was diagnosed with depression, lost a severe amount of weight and was put in a psychiatric ward. Somehow, Hara managed to graduate and began working at an insurance company but fell ill again the following year after the COVID-19 pandemic struck, forcing him to take a leave of absence from his job.

During his college years, he felt unable to confide in those around him. Even after leaving the hospital, he stopped going to outpatient visits once a week because he "did not want to be seen."

This continued until one day he was struck by a thought, "If I turn away from my illness, I won't be able to live the rest of my life in a positive way."


He decided to quit his job and embarked on a nationwide cycling tour in 2021 to talk about his mental health experiences wherever possible.

Initially, few people showed interest.

Taking a basketball along with him, Hara tried taking part in sports events at schools and clubs he visited. He was featured in newspaper articles and on other media platforms, and gradually increased his speaking engagements.

Although the tour ended in the summer of 2022, he has continued his activities and has spoken in some 30 places to date.

Takumi Hara participates in a basketball event in Fukuoka in May 2022 during his round-the-country cycling tour. (Photo courtesy of Takumi Hara)(Kyodo)

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, some 5.86 million people visited hospitals in Japan for mental disorders in 2020. In addition to those suffering from dementia among the elderly, the total included a large number of young people and those in the prime of their working lives.

Specifically, there were some 790,000 people under 25, 13.5 percent of the total, as well as 540,000 people in the 25 to 34 age bracket, or 9.2 percent, and 780,000 people aged 35 to 44, making up 13.3 percent, who were seeking psychiatric care at hospitals.

In order to provide an opportunity for mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma, World Mental Health Day is observed globally on Oct. 10 every year.

In recent years, people's awareness of mental illness has been increasing, with top athletes such as four-time tennis Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles, one of the most decorated gymnasts of all time, opening up about their mental health problems. But social stigmas remain and many people still suffer alone.

"When I began to suffer from depression, I was afraid that I would never recover," Hara said. During his leave of absence, however, a friend who had also suffered from mental health issues listened to him about his problems and he was able to get back on his feet.

Hara tries to give his audiences the unvarnished truth about his experiences in his speeches. He speaks about making his mother cry, the concerns his basketball teammates had for him, and the "big mistakes" he made, such as trying to take his own life. Nonetheless, he believes his experiences have made him a stronger person.

Speaking to students at Saitama high school, Hara said, "Anyone can get sick, and start over as many times as they need to."

"So if you find yourself struggling (mentally) when you grow up, remember back to this time, about the weird guy who rode around on his bicycle, and then ask someone for help."

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