Japan has appointed a “minister of loneliness” to reduce social isolation among its residents as the country deals with rising suicide rates, according to a report in the Japan Times.

The rising psychological and physical toll of the pandemic has been accompanied by a worrisome spike in suicide in the country, especially among women. As many as 6,976 women died by suicide last year, nearly 15% more than in 2019. It was the first year-over-year increase in more than a decade.

PM Yoshihide Suga appointed Tetsushi Sakamoto, who is already a minister-in-charge of dealing with declining birthrate, earlier this month. “The number of suicides is on a rising trend,” Suga told Sakamoto on a February 12 news conference announcing the new role.

“I hope you will identify problems and promote policy measures comprehensively.” The UK was the first country to appoint a loneliness minister in 2018.

In October, more people had died from suicide than from Covid in Japan in 2020 by then. There were 2,153 suicide deaths that month and 1,765 total virus deaths up to the end of October.