AsianScientist (Mar. 11, 2014) – Though just two of Hirono’s 5,418 residents lost their lives in Japan’s mega-earthquake and tsunami, a new study shows that the survivors are struggling to keep their sanity.
One year after the quake, Brigham Young University professor Niwako Yamawaki and scholars from Saga University evaluated the mental health of 241 Hirono citizens. More than half of the people evaluated experienced “clinically concerning” symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Two-thirds of the sample reported symptoms of depression.
Those rates exceed levels seen in the aftermath of other natural disasters, but what happened in Japan wasn’t just a natural disaster. Leaked radiation from nuclear power plants forced residents of Hirono to relocate to temporary housing far from home.
Participants in the study lived in temporary housing provided by the Japanese government when Hirono was evacuated. With an average age of 58, the people are noticeably older than the populations of normal Japanese towns. Yamawaki suspects that young people were more likely to permanently relocate elsewhere in Japan following the disaster.
The researchers didn’t just measure the rates of mental illness; they also performed a statistical analysis to learn what fostered resilience among the survivors. Eating right, exercising regularly and going to work all promoted resilience and served as a buffer against mental illness.
“Having something to do after a disaster really gives a sense of normalcy, even volunteer work,” Yamawaki said.
As the researchers got to know survivors, they heard from so many that they missed seeing their former neighbors. The mass relocation outside the radiation zone broke up many neighborhood ties.
“Japanese are very collectivistic people and their identity is so intertwined with neighbors,” Yamawaki said. “Breaking up the community has so much impact on them.”
While it’s hard to fathom the scope of the devastation in the coastal region of Fukushima, most survivors believe something like this will happen again. If so, this new study provides a blueprint for how to help them put their lives back together again.
Source: Brigham Young University; Photo: jetalone/Flickr/CC.
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