Stress up among 2011 disaster victims in Japan

FUKUSHIMA-A mental health care centre reported a sharp increase in the number of people complaining about mental problems in the first half of fiscal 2013 among victims of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Stress over the disaster that has built up in their minds may have reached a significant threshold in the third year after the disaster, experts warned.

In the first half of fiscal 2013, the Fukushima Center for Disaster Mental Health, established by the Fukushima prefectural government to address the mental health issues of disaster victims, interviewed the disaster sufferers, including those who lived in temporary housing units.

The centre's staff, including mental health welfare professionals, received 3,239 consultations, 1,599 fewer than in the same period in the previous year. Among them, 777 were about physical disorders, down 71 from the same period in the previous year; 409 cases were about sleeping problems, down 299 from the same period in the previous year; and 277 were about anxieties over daily life, down 312.

However, the staff members received 613 consultations regarding emotional instability, such as irritation and mood swings. This figure was about 50 per cent greater than that of same period in the previous year, accounting for 19 per cent of all the consultations, up from 8 per cent.

The centre said it is possible that many of the victims, who had been enduring their mental stress over an extended period, reached a threshold after post-disaster confusion settled down.

A similar tendency could be seen among disaster victims following the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, according to Hyogo Institute for Traumatic Stress in Kobe. Consultation cases regarding issues such as alcoholism increased in the three years after the earthquake, according to the institution.

"We assume that various kinds of mental fatigue have accumulated without warning among disaster-affected people after [the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant]," said Seiichi Uchiyama, deputy director of the Fukushima Center for Disaster Mental Health. "We want to find such symptoms in early stages and take countermeasures by tightening cooperation with hospitals and related organisations."