Half of residents have PTSD symptoms after disaster, study says - New York News

Half of residents have PTSD symptoms after disaster, study says

Updated:
By Couretsy of Jaren Wilkey/BYU, Jaren Wilkey/BYU. BYU psychology professor Niwako Yamawaki. By Couretsy of Jaren Wilkey/BYU, Jaren Wilkey/BYU. BYU psychology professor Niwako Yamawaki.

By: Natalie Crofts, KSL

HIRONO, Japan - Three years after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, the residents of a small town are still struggling to deal with the toll it has taken on their mental health, according to a new study.

More than half of the residents of Hirono, surveyed a year after the disaster, exhibited "clinically concerning" symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and two-thirds reported symptoms of depression, according to a study from Brigham Young University.

“We found that their mental well-being was really affected by this horrible series of events and the prevalence of PTSD and depression is much greater than any other study that has been published,” said researcher Niwako Yamawaki.

Only two of the 5,418 people living in Hirono died in the disaster March 11, 2011, but the town was evacuated due to radiation leaks from the nearby Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. The 241 people who participated in the study were living in temporary housing, which Yamawaki believes contributed to their mental state.

The town was completely shuttered and neighbors were placed far away from each other when they were relocated so the community was broken apart, she said.

“The community is very important, especially for Japanese individuals, and by relocating them with a completely different housing arrangement it might be very detrimental to them,” Yamawaki said. “I think it would be very important for government and also policy makers to think about that in the future.”

Paying attention to these types of cultural conditions could help lessen mental trauma in the future, she said. PTSD and depression have been linked to natural disasters in the past, like the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, but Yamawaki said the disaster response for each location should be considered on an individual basis.

"Even though the symptoms might be the same, how to effectively help the survivors may differ from culture to culture,” she said.

Researchers identified factors that helped people from Hirono remain more psychologically resilient: Physical exercise, sensible dieting and employment status were all good predictors of someone's mental condition, Yamawaki said. Working or volunteering helped give survivors a sense of normalcy, researchers found.

They also found drinking behavior positively affected psychological resilience, which they attributed to that fact that Japanese people often use drinking as a social activity, so it may have helped preserve relationships with friends and neighbors. They did not study the amount of drinking people engaged in.

Yamawaki said the Japanese government is already preparing for another serious natural disaster.

“It's not like it may happen (again), they even say it will happen,” she said. “Our hope is that through this study the government and also policy makers will be able to assist survivors of natural disasters more effectively in a culturally sensitive way.”

The findings were published in the journal Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.


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Copyright 2013 Deseret Digital Media, Inc.

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