On the three-year anniversary of the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that decimated the Tohoku coastline, a disturbing report from the national health ministry has revealed that more than 30 percent of children affected by the disaster are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The new information echoes other recent reports of rampant depression and PTSD among survivors, many who have been barred from returning to homes deemed too close to the radiation-leaking Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, alongside calls for better access to mental healthcare.
Child psychiatrists interviewed 198 children from the hard-hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima – as well as 82 children from unaffected Mie prefecture. Parents of some of the children, ranging in age from 6 to 8, were also surveyed.
The results showed that 34 percent of the children from areas directly impacted by the triple disaster exhibited signs of PTSD, compared with only 3.7 percent for those from the area that was spared. Chronic anxiety, insomnia and other symptoms of the disorder occurred far more frequently in youngsters from the three damaged prefectures.
“In the three prefectures, 14 percent said they suffered flashbacks of painful experiences during the disaster or they repeatedly relived such experiences in dreams,” reported The Asahi Shimbun. “Seventeen percent said they could not remember what they had experienced or stayed away from where they were at the time of the disaster and avoided what they were doing. Ten percent complained about suffering from insomnia and a heightened state of sensitivity.”
Additionally, children with more severe cases of PTSD were found to express less emotion than others when viewing funny videos. Researchers also drew a strong connection between PTSD prevalence and life in temporary housing limbo – where 267,000 people remain.
Parents were also found to be suffering from PTSD, with their individual communities playing a strong role in the recovery process.
“Of the 177 parents surveyed, 39 percent of those living in areas where residents are less friendly with one another showed symptoms of PTSD, compared with 23.2 percent for those living in areas where neighbors had tighter bonds,” wrote The Japan Times.
Adding to the emotional and psychological distress are reports of a spike in thyroid cancer among kids and young adults living near the crippled Fukushima reactor.
The number of suspected cases of thyroid cancer among individuals aged 18 and younger on March 11, 2011 rose to 75, compared to 59 cases reported at the of last September. Fukushima Medical University has tested approximately 250,000 of the prefecture’s 375,000 adolescents.
“Thyroid cancer normally affects one to two people per million among 10 to 14-year-olds in Japan, a rate far lower than observed in Fukushima, although tests there apply to people aged up to 18,” said The Guardian.
The Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE/USA) provides a list of responsible charity organizations that are currently accepting donations toward ongoing recovery efforts in Tohoku.