Tohoku Pacific Earthquake: Report 3 on Medical Activities on the ground

Several people told about the first time they cried. I just kept running frantically and all I could think was that I would be all right.

A month and a half has passed since the earthquake, and applications are starting to roll in for temporary housing in Ozuchi. People whose homes had been flooded out by the tsunami on the first floor are starting to move back from evacuation sites provided their second floor is basically intact. Inconveniences abound but people are gradually regaining a semblance of normalcy.

As time goes by, the overwhelming tension that was so palpable immediately following the earthquake is starting to fade. That said, there are still enormous numbers of people unaccounted for and cleanup of debris regularly nets bodies of disaster victims. In addition, people are now being forced to confront a new source of stress: rebuilding their lives after losing their jobs, their homes, and their cars. The situation is leaving disaster victims in a state of exhaustion. Evacuation site leaders have said, \”I can\’t take it any more. I would like to leave here if possible.\” I counselor I know confided that he found himself taking out his frustrations on his children. The stress from the disaster is affecting everyone differently.

The mental health care activities of international medical organizations initially focused on just listening to survivors\’ stories, but now there is a growing tendency to focus on urging people to take time off from their work even if they don\’t want to and to offer specific and practical advice to address the sources of stress burdening disaster victims.

A legal advisor recently accompanied me to evacuation sites to offer consultation. The purpose of this service was to provide professional legal advice for specific problems related to loan repayment, insurance, and other legal issues in affected areas where essential information is unavailable. One day, we held a lecture on mental health care for high school teachers. The teachers were disaster victims in their own right, but at the same time they had to contend with the emotional problems of their students. The lecture was designed to help them fulfill this difficult responsibility.

Since the amount of time that can be spent at any given evacuation site is limited, we are also operating telephone consultation services. In addition, we are continuing to provide massage therapy to people staying at evacuation centers.

When one resident asked me what kind of help lawyers could provide, he responded, \”emotional support.\” Disaster victims have a huge number of things to do, and the offer to help take on some of those tasks together is possibly the best mental health care that we can provide for disaster victims who are emotionally exhausted.

Going forward, I would like to consider how the medical team can support the recovery of stricken areas in the long term, and I would like to continue to mull what our legacy should be.

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