Italian hikikomori, more inmates at home by choice

Italian hikikomori, more inmates at home by choice

Italian hikikomori

With the pandemic, the number of those withdrawing from social life has grown: currently there are between 120 and 150 thousand cases in our country. 70% is represented by young males between the ages of 14 and 30

School psychologist Italy reopens, but they remain on the sidelines. They are the hikikomori, who by choice withdraw from social life and shut themselves up at home, sometimes for months or even years. The condition is defined as a social adaptive distress, it mainly affects young males between 14 and 30 years (representing at least 70%), with a peak in the period of adolescence. While in Japan the phenomenon is widely documented and has considerable dimensions (psychiatrist Saito Tamaki estimated two million cases in 2019), in Italy there is no hikikomori registry. But according to the calculations of the psychologist Chiara Iliano of the Hikikomori Italia association, "currently there are between 120 and 150 thousand cases in our country, and the numbers are growing. They are mostly young, but we are also over 40. These are people who experience a form of social unease often confused with other problems, including psychiatric problems. Yet, it is a specific condition, complex to identify and which can lead to other pathologies. Normally the hikikomori don't think they have a problem, they instead believe that society is the problem, so they decide to estrange themselves ”.

Since March 2020 we have been experiencing suspended normality: what was the effect of the pandemic on hikikomori?

“During the months of lockdown a sort of paradoxical effect was generated”, Chiara Iliano replies. “If we were all locked up in the house, then the choice to retire was somehow normalized. In that period I found in some of my patients a situation of greater calm and a better predisposition to family relationships. With the reopening, however, anxiety has increased. Several children have taken many steps backwards and have closed again ”.

A block that for the parents of these children is represented by a closed door, that of their son or daughter's room.

"The closed door is something you have to learn to live with", explains Gabriella D’Urso, mother of Fred Allen, a 23-year-old boy, who has been in non-continuous retreat for about six years. "At the beginning it is very difficult for families to accept, you have to follow a path, and the first to not understand the situation and to need help are us parents. For me, for example, it was very difficult to recognize that my son didn't want to go to school anymore. He has always had many interests, I did not understand why it was an immense cross for him to be in class with his classmates. Eventually he dropped out of high school. He was in fourth grade and maturity no longer took hold. However, he tried to work: steward for Ryanair, also thanks to the fact that he was bilingual Italian / English: unfortunately it only lasted a few months, then he gave up and went home ".

What is a typical day of a hikikomori?

"It doesn't exist, these kids are all different", continues Gabriella D’Urso, who takes care of welcoming new families for the Hikikomori Italia Parents association. “Generally, however, they are hyper-connected, they use the internet to keep in touch with the outside world, to read, watch series, take distance courses and play online. Many spend hours and hours in front of video games, especially with those games that allow you to create fictional characters, with identities that satisfy them more than the real one. Another common trait is the distortion of the wake-sleep cycle: they are often active at night and sleep during the day or in any case have “impossible” times for those with a normal social life. Finally, many of them had problems finishing their studies, not because of inability, but because the school is not equipped to recognize and support them ".

What, then, can be done specifically to help them?

According to the psychologist Marco Crepaldi, founder of the Hikikomori Italia association and pioneer of the subject, parents should always keep in mind three fundamental points: “First of all, recognize that you are not doing it for yourself: when we want to help a person at all costs, we must always remember that it is for his good, not ours. Therefore, the goal should not be to push our child to live the life that we believe is the right one for him, but simply to support him so that he finds his way (even if it does not correspond to our ideal model). Then, we must be aware that help goes up to a certain point: the impact of our words and actions on the life of another person are never able to overcome certain limits, we cannot act on their own and our responsibility for his choices is, rightly, reduced. Third and final point: we must continue to live our life. When you have a child in need, you would do anything to help him, even sacrifice your personal well-being. Yet, an attitude of self-denial risks causing the opposite effect in a hikikomori, who, feeling more pressure on themselves from their parents, could react by isolating themselves even more. For this reason we must strive to continue to lead a normal daily life without getting caught up in frenzy and panic. The password is always patience ”.

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