Monday, April 18, 2011

Fears over mental impact of Japan disaster

The forbearance shown by survivors of Japan's quake-tsunami has been lauded in the West, but psychologists worry not talking about the hurt could be doing long-term damage.

Commentators have heaped praise on the emotional resilience of people who have lost everything, but, say some, the surface calm masks deep undercurrents of emotion.

"To be honest I really feel like breaking down and crying -- because I'm sad," said evacuee Kenichi Endo, 45, briefly screwing his eyes shut.

"I've lost my father, my pet, my car, my savings. I've lost everything. But, everyone here is the same. If I cry, everyone else will, so I can't," he told AFP in a shelter in Onagawa town, clenching his fists into tight balls.

Unbearable tragedy was heaped on Japan on March 11 when a 9.0 magnitude quake unleashed a gigantic wave on the country's northeast, killing more than 13,500 people and leaving over 14,000 missing.

More than five weeks on and tens of thousands of evacuees are still living in school gymnasiums and other public buildings, sharing their sleeping space with dozens -- sometimes hundreds -- of other people.

Under these conditions, emotion remains tightly regulated.

Instead, grief appears at unexpected times -- while sleeping, listening to music or even while eating.

"The one thing I really want now is privacy," said Ken Hiraaki, an evacuee in another shelter. "At night I hear people groaning in their dreams. But sometimes my wife wakes me up because I am groaning too." (read more)