Psychiatrist Paul Ballas has written an Op-Ed piece for the Wired science section of Wired Magazine Onine.
You can read it here: Op-Ed: Psychiatric Disorder Could Complicate Japan Quake Recovery
First, I want to state that I'm a long time reader of Wired Magazine. A great deal of the material they produce is at the very least, though provoking. Though the print magazine suffers the curse of any paper publication in this instant digital age with a lot of the print magazine material feeling dated when it hits your door. Still, it is a great tech industry magazine. Kudos.
As for the article itself, I think the comments do a fair job criticizing the relevancy of resurrecting the hikikomori topic in the aftermath of the 3-11 earthquake in Japan. So I won't say much more on that aspect of the article. My only complaint here is why revive the 'one million missing' hikikomori fallacy reported back in 2001? That alone shows poor background research into the issue.
My issue is with Ballas' framing of hikikomori as a mental health issue.
I admire Paul Ballas' work and efforts to understand individuals labeled as 'hikikomori', more people should look at this issue with a serious eye. However, I've always felt that hikikomori is a social issue amongst the younger generation, one that is a by-product of globalization clashing with young people transitioning into adulthood. Since hikikomori is a word coined in Japan, focus in the media has been on it as Japan-specific phenomena. However, a cursory search of the Internet reveals similar reclusive social withdrawal behavior in Korea, China, and even the United States.
The 'hikikomori' label has always seemed to me a catch-all term for people who have dropped out of society. To be sure, there are some youth with mental health problems, but there is tendency in the sphere of western medicine to medicalize any behaviors outside the societal norm as a mental illness. Add to that the trend for health care providers to to apply prescription drugs to solve the problem, and you have a mess. From my research the more successful approach to the acute social withdrawal is to remove the person from the stagnant home environment and put them into a group situation with peers in the same state. This type of socialization and reintroduction into greater society seems like a much more productive approach than labeling kids with some mental health condition and drugging them into a stupor.
I still maintain that the majority of youth so-labeled as hikikomori are not mentally ill but socially isolated and in need of a third party intervention to bring them back into functionality in everyday society.